Lying is a natural behavior that can begin around the age of three. Even well-behaved children will lie, and this does show that kids are learning about communication, consequences, and more.
However, it can seem like kids go through a lying stage, and this is not a habit you want to stick to. Even though lying in childhood is not necessarily something to be concerned about, it’s still something you want to address as a parent.
Here’s what you should know about lying children and how to handle lying.
Reasons Kids Lie
There are many types of lies and reasons why kids lie. Not all of them should be handled the same. Here are some of the top reasons why children lie:
- Out of fear of consequences.
- To try out new behavior.
- To gain approval. By making themselves seem more talented, children can boost their self-esteem.
- To deflect focus away from themselves. This is common in children with depression or anxiety.
- Impulsivity, not thinking before they speak.
- White lies to avoid hurting someones’ feelings.
Ignore Attention-Seeking Lies
When lies are done to gain attention, they are best ignored. Rather than pointing out the lie or reacting to it, just don’t give the attention. For example, if your child comes home telling you that they got a 200% on their test and the teacher gave them a cake for it, you may suspect it’s not true. Simply ignore the lie and redirect to something else more factual.
If that strategy doesn’t seem to work, point out the situation and allow the child to try again. You may label fantastical stories as “tall tales” and ask the child to try again to tell you what really happened.
Have Consequences for Deliberate Lies
Tall tales are one kind of lie that’s often harmless, and kids typically grow out of this kind of lying if it’s not garnering attention. Deliberate lies are a bit different. Make it clear that intentional lying is not acceptable, and outline clear consequences for lying.
Deal with lying separately from the behavior that led to it. For example, the “I Didn’t Do It, Mommy!” lie is incredibly common. Make it clear that lying is not acceptable, but consider handling the situation differently. If the child accidentally broke or spilled something, it may be better to clean up together and punish the lie with a small consequence instead.
Lying is a normal part of childhood development, but it’s still important to handle it correctly. Encourage children to tell the truth, have honest conversations about lying, and focus on what may be causing bigger lies.