When Children Lie to You

By Dr. Bruce Narramore, Ph.D.

W


hen children lie to you, the starting place for dealing with this dishonesty is recognizing the reason your child is lying. A four-year-old who claims, "Daddy, I outran every child in school today," a six-year-old who claims he didn't break his mother's most precious vase, and a teenager who misses curfew and says his car ran out of gas, are probably distorting the truth for different reasons.

Young children have a natural tendency to exaggerate. They enjoy fairy tales and sometimes construct their own. A little of this shouldn't alarm you. Other children embellish their achievements and stretch reality to gain attention or compensate for feeling inadequate. These children are telling us, "I don't like myself the way I am so I have to make you think I'm different."

Other children lie to avoid being punished. Like the six-year-old who broke his mother's vase, children lie so they won't be caught. When my own children were young and I asked them, "Why do children lie?" they immediately answered, "To get out of trouble!"

When my own children were
young and I asked them,
'Why do children lie?'
they immediately answered,
'To get out of trouble.'

Just as some children lie to get out of trouble, others lie to get their brothers or sisters in trouble. Younger children are masters at stirring up conflict with older brothers or sisters, taking the "innocent" role, and getting their older siblings in trouble.

So be careful. Sometimes "innocent" children enhance the truth to get their more blatantly disobedient siblings into trouble.

For lies of exaggeration, don't challenge your children until you have more information. If your five-year-old runs into the house and proudly announces, "I outran ever child in school today!" You might say "Really! Tell me about it." If you still have doubts after he repeats his story, you might say, "Every child in school?" At this point most children will acknowledge it's really just the children in their class or the children they raced that day. But if he persists undaunted, you might reply, "You sure are a good runner and it would be great to outrun all the kids at school. But I'm not sure you can really outrun all the sixth-graders, too. They are pretty fast, you know!" This way you avoid labeling your child a liar and protect his self-esteem, while still letting him know you want the truth.

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