Every parent knows that children will tell lies from time to time. You’ve all dealt with it at some point. Your teenager explains that they have a study date with a friend, but you know for sure they want to go to a party. Sometimes, lying can become a character trait. But, more often than not, it’s just a normal part of growing up.
Of course, it’s unpleasant to have to deal with your kid lying as a parent. And, what confuses most parents, is that they don’t understand the underlying reasons behind their kids’ lies. Sometimes, kids lie even though telling the truth wouldn’t get them into trouble.
The mind of a child is complex and confusing. But psychology can explain everything you need to know. So, here are some reasons why kids lie and make them stop.
Why Do Some Children Tell Lies?
Let’s review why kids lie and how you can help them change that habit.
1. They Are Afraid Of Consequences
Often, kids (and adults) lie because they want to avoid negative consequences. When you are young, your moral compass hasn’t developed yet. You don’t have a clear sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. And the temptation can be hard to refuse. Even adults know how it felt to be tempted as a kid. You see the cookies your mom made on the table.
You know it’s almost dinner time, and you shouldn’t eat the cookies. But you still snag one. Your mom notices the missing cookie and asks you about it. Of course, you will default to a lie to avoid the consequences. When kids tell lies to avoid consequences, they go through this exact thought process. Sometimes, this behavior persists even when it shouldn’t. This behavior might be a sign that your children are afraid of you.
While kids should know that they have responsibilities, you should never teach this by instilling fear. Try some family counseling if you think that your kid might be afraid of you. You might find that your discipline methods are way too harsh, and you should turn it down a notch. In most cases, your kids aren’t afraid of you. They want to avoid discipline. If you catch them in a lie, give them a few minutes to reconsider their answer.
Chances are, they lied instinctively, and they’ll tell you the truth if you give them a few minutes to calm down. Offer to help them out if they might have gotten into a bad situation. As long as they know they have your support, they will feel like they confide in you.
2. They Tell Lies To Impress Their Peers
As a kid, you don’t know much about what’s valuable in life and what’s not. A kid will seldom value learning and school over social connections. Because of this, their primary interest is to have as many friends as possible. Often, how they attract people is by trying to impress them. And you, as a parent, know this.
You know the dynamic in school, where the coolest kid is the one who has gone on the most exotic vacations. Or the one with the newest phone. To impress these kids, your kid might try to invent some stories. They might want to tell others that they also went skiing in the Alps or whatever makes them cool. But lying in these situations is often used to mask insecurities. As a parent, it’s essential to have a serious conversation with your child if this starts happening.
Try to explain that material possessions don’t make you better or worse than anyone else. Explain that the truth is much more valuable than anything else. And that the people who are their true friends will stay beside them no matter what. Sometimes, the same type of lying can be used by kids to impress adults. Most kids feel like they are inferior to adults for many reasons. They feel like they aren’t as bright as grown-ups. They can’t do all the things an adult can, and they don’t have as much freedom.
To impress those adults, they might lie or exaggerate specific stories. It’s important to talk to them about this issue if this happens. Calmly explain that they shouldn’t feel inferior to adults. Explain that everyone has their strengths, and they shouldn’t invent theirs just to be accepted. Let them know that adults will respect them even if they can’t drive or stay up until midnight. Again, this issue stems from certain insecurities. Try to deal with those insecurities, and the lying will stop.
3. They Tell Lies to Seek Praise
You might not want to, but most parents forget just how critical praise is. As a parent, you want your kid to be the best and to have the best prospects possible. But that can put a lot of pressure on them. Naturally, all kids want to impress their parents. So, if you have very high expectations that they can’t meet, they might lie to please you.
People have an intrinsic need to be praised. It makes them feel appreciated and seen. And, if a kid works hours on end for something, and you brush off his efforts, that can crush him. Sometimes, the parents even get disappointed, and that’s even worse for the kid’s self-esteem. After working for hours and hours, learning or training, the last thing someone needs is to hear that they’re still not enough.
If that’s the message, you directly or indirectly send to your kid, no wonder they start lying. No one wants to put in all that work for nothing. It’s much easier for them to lie and skip all the hard work. They’ll get a better reaction from you with no effort, so of course, they’ll tell lies.
As a parent, you should learn to praise their efforts, not just their results. Maybe your kid didn’t get first place in a race, so what? They still put in the work and did their best. And that’s all you could ask for as a parent. When you praise their efforts, you show kids that you value hard work above all else. This will make them work harder, and there will be no need to lie anymore.
4. They’re Experimenting
Kids, especially small kids, are still trying to figure the world out. They haven’t experimented with everything yet, and they are inherently curious. At some point, they’ll figure out that they don’t always have to tell the truth. So, they will start lying. They don’t have to have an apparent reason for doing so. They want to see what your reaction as a parent will be. Or, they want to understand if and how they can use lies.
Matthew Rouse, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, has supported this idea in the past. He says that kids have an inherent desire to try different behaviors and see what they can gain from them. For them, it’s just an experiment. They don’t understand that they are doing something terrible. So, if you see that your kid starts to lie out of the blue, don’t snap at them. Stay calm and have a civilized conversation with them.
Try to teach them why lies are wrong and why they shouldn’t engage in such behaviors. After they get over the experimenting phase, they will stop lying.
5. They Tell Lies Without Realizing It
This might sound unbelievable, but it happens more often than one might think. And even adults do this from time to time. Sometimes, people believe that they have done something that they didn’t, and this is how a lie is born. For example, a kid might honestly think they did their homework when, in reality, they didn’t.
They might have forgotten that they have homework, or their brain somehow convinced them that they did it. This often happens with kids because they have difficulties with organizing their thoughts. For a kid, it might be hard to keep track of all the tasks they have to do or all the rules they have to follow.
It would be best if you had a little faith in them. Trust them when they tell you they didn’t know they were lying. There might be some underlying issues that have led them to forget things. They might have memory issues, or it might even be a sign of ADHD. If this happens repeatedly, taking them to a psychologist might help.
6. They Are Reproducing Your Behaviors
Believe it or not, your behavior might be the reason why your kid is lying. Kids are very observant, and they often recreate behaviors they see around them. If you lie often, your kid might start believing it’s ok to lie. Some parents even teach their kids to tell white lies to don’t hurt others’ feelings. For example, you might tell your kid to compliment his aunt’s haircut, even if it is atrocious.
If that’s the case, try to change your behavior accordingly. Don’t ever lie in front of your kids. And, even if you do it to avoid awkwardness, don’t encourage your kid to use white lies. It’s much better to teach them that the truth should always be used. Otherwise, you risk being a bad role model.
Final Thoughts On Why Some Children Tell Lies (and How to Make Them Stop)
Even though lying should never be encouraged, parents need to understand that their kids telling some lies is normal. It doesn’t mean it’s good behavior, just that it’s a normal part of development. And, while some kids do it with malicious intentions, most don’t understand how bad it is to lie.
As a parent, your role is to guide your kid through life. And that includes explaining what the differences between good and bad are. Every time they lie, be calm and understanding and try to remind them why they should value truth. If you see that lying becomes a pattern, try to look for underlying issues.
Maybe they are insecure, want praise, or just want to avoid consequences. Or maybe they’re just recreating your behaviors. Whatever the case is, if you solve the root issue, the lying will go away. And, if it doesn’t, you can always consult a specialist.