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Learning About How to Talk to Your Kids About Lying

Why do children lie?

Most children lie from time to time—for lots of reasons. Kids may lie because they're afraid of disappointing their parents. Or they might be trying to avoid consequences. Sometimes kids tell a lie because it's easier than telling the truth.

Older children and teens may lie as a way of dealing with the pressures of school or social life. Teens sometimes lie to protect their privacy as they become more independent. Kids may lie or exaggerate to gain approval from others.

Younger children don't understand the difference between real and make-believe. So it's normal for them to tell stories that aren't true. Older children start to know when they're telling a lie, and the reasons they lie get more complicated.

Sometimes lying can be a sign of a bigger issue, such as when children tell lies on a regular basis or lie about serious issues. Changes in your child's behaviour, mood, or sleep—or changes at school—can also be a sign of more serious issues.

How can you teach your child not to lie?

Here are some ways you can encourage your child to be honest.

  • Teach younger children about honesty.

    Talk about what truth and honesty mean and why they're important. Help your child understand the difference between what's real and what's make-believe.

  • Teach children the benefits of honesty.

    Discuss how being honest is a way to build trust with others. Teach your child why it's important for people to be able to trust their word. Point out examples of honesty in others. And praise your child for telling the truth.

  • Be clear about consequences.

    Make sure that the consequences for lying are fair and reasonable and fit the situation. Every situation may be different. Lying shouldn't always result in punishment. But it should be a chance to have an open discussion with your child.

  • Try to understand the reasons behind the lie.

    Find out the circumstances and reasons behind a lie. If your child lies because of problems they're having, talk about those issues. Help your child figure out a solution.

  • Help your child see alternatives to lying.

    Talk to your child about the advantages of being honest. For instance, it builds trust. It means they don't have to hide things. And it allows them to talk openly about their problems. Help them find ways to deal with a problem instead of lying.

  • Set an example by being honest.

    Talk about family values. Tell your child that you expect honesty from them, and that they can expect it from you. Set a good example by being honest with others.

  • Be firm but respectful when your child lies.

    Acknowledge that it might be easier to lie, but lying can have negative consequences, especially on relationships with friends and family. Teens especially, may be dealing with stress from things like school or their social life. Talk with your teen about any issues they're dealing with, and try to find out why they lied without being judgmental or emotional. Be clear that you expect your teen to be honest. But use the opportunity to try to understand your teen better and gain trust. Try to find out about any issues that may involve unsafe behaviour, like drinking or using drugs.

  • Get help if lying becomes a bigger problem.

    You may need to monitor your child’s behaviour. If an older child or teen lies often or lies about serious issues, think about working with a counsellor. Counselling can help you and your child build trust and open communication.

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.