Teaching Children Not to Lie

teen anger child therapy Los Altos Posted 12/23/2013

Lying in children can be difficult to understand and accept; however, children lie for some of the same reasons that adults do. By elementary school, they can generally differential between truth and fiction, and they have begun to develop a more complex sense of morality. But, many children will lie to improve their social status or avoid consequences of their behavior. Many types of lying are wrong, but they are also a normal part of growth and development. Parents should be concerned about lying when a child habitually lies to avoid problems, and addressing the issue early can minimizing the chances that it will become a more serious problem.

Role modeling honesty is the most effective way to show children the importance of being honest. You can model honesty in your home by answering your child’s questions truthfully, following-thru on your promises and showing them how to face issues with integrity. Admit when you have made a mistake and take responsibility for it so your children will do the same.

Role plays can also be used to show the value of telling the truth. For preschool children, it is helpful to start with the concepts of true and false (Parent says, “The grass is red”, and the child says, “False”). Older children can handle more complicated scenarios, “What do you do when you find a wallet in a park and no one sees that you found it?” It is important to discuss the consequences of lying, even if the child is not caught, such as feeling guilty and dishonest. Discuss honesty as the brave a mature thing to do, particularly when it might get them in trouble, such as admitting that they broke something.

Lying can have greater consequences in adolescents, and they have a wider range of moral dilemmas. Encourage adolescents to recognize the range of dishonest behaviors, such as cheating on exams, exaggerating to impress others and omitting important facts when talking to parents. Discuss the bystander effect in lying, such as failing to report the cheating of a peer. Here are some other ways to encourage honesty in your home:

  • Keep your word when you can, and apologize when have to break a promise.
  • Help your child differentiate between truth and fiction.
  • Emphasize and praise honesty, fairness and bravery.
  • Avoid lecturing your child, and instead focus on what is behind your child’s desire to lie.
  • Create a safe atmosphere so your children can tell you the truth.
  • Do not ask your child to lie about his or her age, for instance to get a kid meal at a restaurant.
  • Do not ask your child to tell a caller that you are not home.
  • Handle dishonesty in a calm and objective manner.
  • Give your children a chance to confess with few consequences if they are honest.
  • Always confront the truth. Do not ask your child if he or she did something when you already know what happened; instead, ask them why it happened.