Little liars!

Feb 27, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET

We know that almost all children try lying at some point. But what should we do when our little angels look us in the face and tell a whopper? Here are three things to keep in mind when dealing with your little liar.

After my daughter's nap last week, I noticed a blue crayon line that ran across the top of her chair and down the leg in a wavy, deliberate pattern.

When I asked if she had colored her chair, she nervously smiled and said no. I pressed her harder and still, she denied it. Because the chair is in her bedroom and the box of crayons sits on her play table, there was no doubt in my mind that she was the culprit.

It wasn't until the fourth time I asked her and reassured her that if she told the truth, she wouldn't be punished, that she finally came clean. I explained that I was unhappy with her actions, but that I was pleased she told me the truth and told her that she would have to wash her chair herself to remove the crayon.

But, there is nagging in the back of my mind. Did I handle it right? What if she sees lying as safe? What if she becomes a habitual liar?

Why do they lie?

Victoria Talwar, professor of developmental psychology at McGill University in Montreal and a leading expert on children and lying, explains that preschool lying is actually a sign that our children are learning that they have their own thoughts, knowledge and beliefs apart from ours.

Apparently, lying is linked to intelligence. For my daughter to tell a lie, she must first recognize that there is an alternative to the truth and then try to sell me on a different version of the story.

Read more about why kids experiment with lying >>

So what should parents do? Here are three things to keep in mind when dealing with your fibbing child:


As much as we want to tell that annoying telemarketer that we're in the middle of dinner (when we're not), offering an honest answer is an excellent chance to lead by example. Talwar stresses that children absorb even the tiniest things.


Talwar suggests that parents speak with their children from a young age about the importance of telling the truth. Speaking with them often about how honesty and trust are interwoven will help them to recognize that you will be honest with them, just as you are asking them to be with you.


Most importantly, reward honesty. Talwar's studies show that harsh punishment for lying increases the likelihood that children will actually lie more frequently and more convincingly. So, think twice before handing out a severe punishment.

Read more about how to deal with your child's little white lies >>

I'll keep the paper towels handy for my little artist to clean up after herself and trust that leading by example, talking with her about the importance of honesty and showing her that telling the truth is rewarded will help to set the groundwork for a lifetime of honesty.

More on children and lying

How to raise honest kids
Children and lying: Age appropriate advice
Dealing with your child's big lies