How to Handle When Kids are Lying

Child pushing boundaries

One of the questions I’m often asked is, “How do you handle when your child is lying?”

First thing to know is that lying is developmentally common. Big lies, small lies, possibly even stupid lies.  More recent research, however, has found that most children learn to lie effectively between the ages of 2 and 4.” – No matter the “severity”, the truth is that lying is very, very developmentally common. Nevertheless, there is a way to handle lying in a firm, yet kind way. Read on to learn more about why children lie, as well as three tips to put in your parenting toolbox. 

First, let’s uncover the “why” behind children lying. Wondering about the motivation behind this behavior may cause you to feel irritated, defeated, or angry.  All of those feelings are also normal and valid. However, let’s take a step back and consider the behavior from the child’s point of view.  

A young child lying is likely trying to protect against an unwanted consequence or to avoid taking responsibility and feeling shameful.  Essentially, we can see the lie as the child wishing they didn’t have to take responsibility for what they did. While it’s understandable, it doesn’t mean that this behavior should be tolerated.

Here is what I recommend:

1. Don’t Set the Child Up for Lying

If you catch your child in an obvious lie (such as sneaking cookies and you see chocolate smeared all over their face), instead of asking “Did you eat a cookie after I told you no?”, say, “I see you got into the cookies.”

2. Shift Your Focus to Teaching, Rather Than Shaming. 

In the above “cookie” example, this looks like “I have told you the cookies are off limits right now.  That was a sad choice, that you got into the cookies anyway.  I know that I have made sad choices sometimes too, and didn’t do what I knew was the best thing to do. Mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn.”

3. Involve Them in Taking Responsibility for the Error.

As you shift your focus to teaching them that mistakes are opportunities to learn, rather than wallow in guilt and shame, follow up with helping them take responsibility. Ask questions such as: 

“What do you think is a reasonable consequence?” or 

“How can we make this right?”
Start by asking, instead of telling.  If they don’t have any ideas, then you can add what you think is reasonable and related to the behavior.  Many parents struggle to find consequences that are effective, and as a parent coach, one of the main things we tackle is appropriate, effective, age appropriate consequences.

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For more tools to build up your child’s emotion-management skills, check out Chapter 1 of “How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen” or reach out to for direct parent coaching support.

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