Encouraging Truth Telling

If you are wondering why kids lie—specifically your child—know that the explanation will likely vary, based upon his or her age. As a toddler, your child might tell a self-serving lie. Here is an example, one where a parent shares how his two-year-old twin boys would typically blame one another when asked who had a dirty diaper. Because neither of them liked the hassle associated with a diaper change, each one would simply point fingers at his twin brother.

So, what do you do? Because toddlers are too young to understand that bending the truth is wrong, being punished for lying would not make sense to them and would be counterproductive.

Preschoolers’ lies tend to be of the “invisible friends, horned monsters and talking rainbows” type. Usually these “tall tales can be pure play, or sometimes wishful thinking.” Your preschooler may insist that his or her story is true, but it is likely to be a way for your child to process new ideas.

School-aged children tend to have specific reasons for their lies, perhaps to cover up something that might upset you—or because of a fear of punishment, or to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. Before you decide how to handle your child’s lie, try to discern the reasons behind it so you can respond appropriately.

Encouraging Truth Telling

It can be upsetting when your child lies but, as described above, it happens, and often for developmentally normal reasons. To encourage truth telling,offers strategies, including openly asking for truthfulness. In addition, since telling you the truth is your goal, explain that honesty pleases you, which will help to stop lies told because of fear of punishment. If children expect to be punished for lying, they will not feel as confident telling you the truth.

Model honesty yourself, and share inspiring stories about people who tell the truth. If you know, your child is not being honest about something, “gently insist on what you know happened, explain that you expect honesty, and give your child a path forward by finding a way for them to make amends for the misbehavior.”

If you consider mistakes to be opportunities to make better choices going forward, you have reframed the lie, so you can teach a better way. You can ask your child, for example, how he or she would respond if given a “do-over.” If someone else was hurt by your child’s actions, you can discuss how your child could make amends to that person.

Avoid setting up opportunities for your child to lie by not asking a question where you already know the answer. Instead of asking, for example, if he or she finished all homework assignments, ask your child what his or her plan is to complete the assignments. That way, the focus is on a constructive plan of action.

Here is an important one included in that article: recognize honest behavior. When your child does something wrong—and then admits the behavior—this is a wonderful opportunity to praise him or her for telling the truth, even when it was challenging to do so. This will help to set the stage for your children telling the truth in the future.