When Kids Lie

Kids are going to lie/fib/omit the truth/hide something/etc. at some point in their lives.  We were once kids; we all did it.  The hope is that we can correct this impulse and turn them into honest, trustworthy adults. 

There are many reasons kids lie:

  • They are scared of getting in trouble.
  • They think we just don’t know the truth (We ALWAYS know! 😉).
  • Someone told them to try and get away with it.
  • They’re trying to protect a sibling or friend from getting in trouble.
  • They are just compulsive and have no impulse control.

In order to correct an issue with dishonest behavior, we must first find out the root cause behind the dishonesty.  If your child is old enough to understand some level of logic and reasoning, just ask them why they lied!  Here is the evolution of some of the answers we’ve received from our child since she was a toddler:

  • “I don’t know” (That one drove us nuts!)
  • “I thought you wouldn’t find out.” (Yeah, well, we did.)
  • “I just wanted to.” (Agh!)
  • “So-and-so told me they got away with it.” (They don’t have to come home to us; you do!)
  • “I’m just a bad kid.” (No, you’re not; you just make bad choices.)
  • “I’m sorry – I won’t do it again.” (Are you just sorry you got caught, and how should I believe you now?)

She’s only 8 ½, so I’m sure this will get more interesting as the years go on.  We keep reminding her that we were kids once too, and anything she tries, we’ve already done before!  Kids hate that speech. 😉 

When you do get to a root issue with them, you have to then explain a few things before getting to the consequences stage (Trust me, you’ll probably have this conversation more than once):

  • Ask them if they think the lie made the original situation better or not (the obvious answer is NO!).
  • Explain the results of their actions and what loss of trust does to relationships.
  • Tell them it will be so much harder to trust anything they say or do from now on.
  • Explain that bad choices have consequences and that this helps remind them not to make the same poor choices again and again.
  • Talk through why you are choosing whatever form of punishment you are choosing.

Any punishment should be age-appropriate, meaningful, and done in a way that builds into your child – not tears them down.  All children have different personalities, and all respond in different ways to varying methods.  Find what works best for your unique kid.  Some options that I grew up with, that I’ve used as a parent myself, and that I’ve heard of other parents doing include:

  • Time Out
  • Grounding
  • Soap in the Mouth
  • Hot Pepper in the Mouth
  • A Plain Talking To
  • A Spanking
  • Writing Out Positive Affirmation Statements Regarding Changing the Behavior
  • Writing Apology Notes

After going through this whole process, don’t treat your child as if they can never be trusted again and are a serial liar from here on out. Go into every new situation with an initial benefit of the doubt that they are telling the truth – however, trust and verify!!! Make sure they understand that trust is earned, and it is so much easier to lose than to earn back.

The hope in our family is that if we follow these standards from an early age, we will have a better chance of having a teenager that will communicate with her parents honestly and openly, no matter what the consequences of the original actions may be.

Do any of you with older kids (pre-teens and teens) have advice for us that are still in the elementary-age stage of this?  We would love to hear your feedback!

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