Dealing with your child’s big lies

Dec 1, 2010 at 2:31 p.m. ET

Sadly, lying is a part of life. Even if we put a big emphasis on honesty at home, as adults and parents we lie, and kids learn how to lie from us. Sometimes the lies are “little” lies -- lies told to protect oneself, make oneself look better, cover an emotion or avoid minor judgment. Other times the lies are big -- whoppers! They are “How on earth did he think he could get away with that one?!” lies. What’s a parent to do?

WBoy with fingers crossedhen kids tell these big lies, there may be more going on than first meets the eye. No matter your child's age and stage, you need to look beyond the lie itself to figure out if this is part of a developmental stage, part of an attention-getting behavior or part of a pattern of behavior relating to other issues.


Most kids go through some experimentation with lying as a part of their normal development. This is more likely to be testing. "How much can I get away with? What are the boundaries?" Most of the time, experimental lying can be dealt with quickly and efficiently with consistent reiteration of family values and reminders of boundaries. Phew!


Some lying is more about attention-getting than anything else. Granted, it's not the most constructive path for a child looking for his parents' time and energy, but it does happen. A child who feels so in need of attention to be grabbing for even negative attention likely has other issues that need addressing in the family.

This does not mean you should dismiss the lying. The dishonesty and deceit still needs to be addressed for what it is, but perhaps you could find a way -- separately, of course -- to give your child some attention in a positive manner. You want to give the child the attention he or she needs, yet not give the signal that, hey, lying worked in a way, and I got what I wanted: More time with mom!


If the whopper lie isn't a one-time or rare issue, look for patterns with when and around what issues the lying occurs. If the lying is always around school issues, is your child struggling in a certain subject? If the lying is around social issues, is there a social dynamic your child is having difficulty navigating? If the lying is around household chores, maybe your family needs more structure into how and when household chores happen? Again, this is not to dismiss the issue of lying, but to help provide circumstances and situations when it is more than obvious that honesty really is the best policy.

Separate issues

As far as disciplining lying goes, separating the whopper lie the from the subject of the lie can be very helpful in driving your messages home. Separate discussions and separate consequences about each part of the lie may help instill in your child that lying about these big things that his parents are going to figure out anyway just isn't worth the effort.

Just about every parent deals with a lying child at one time or another. Figuring out how to handle lies can be tricky! Whopper lie or little lie or somewhere in between -- and despite your own little lies -- judge the lie, help the liar and create a more honest home.

Read more about your child and lying

How to raise honest kids

Children and lying: Age appropriate advice

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