September 26, 2011

Children and the Lying Game

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Children lie for a number of reasons and in many cases it is a normal part of development. All children lie at one time or another. This behavior, however, can be very upsetting for parents. Many parents wonder how they will handle their children’s lying. How lying is handles usually depends on the age of the child, the specific situation, and the established family rules about lying.

lying-behaviorDefining what lying is can be extremely helpful when figuring out how to best combat the telling of falsehoods. Some people think that lying is saying something that isn’t true.  Lying is defined as using words or symbols with the intent to deceive.

Since we all exaggerate and add to our experiences, we need to teach children the difference between the right kind of embellishment and the wrong kind. “One of the things we have to say to kids is that it’s important for them to give us the facts that are clear, and then if they want to add anything else to the story that they thought happened or wished had happened, that’s okay.

A wonderful mom shared a story about a time her child lied. Her son was in math class taking a big test.  When the test was handed out her child also received the answer grid!  Her child decided to copy the answers.  Later, when the teacher confronted him he lied and said he had not cheated

Her son was a good student who hadn’t been in trouble before. In fact, he admired his math teacher. He lied not only to try and escape punishment, but also because he was embarrassed and worried what his teacher would think of him. Sometimes kids lie to avoid disappointing adults they care about.

Other times, kids will lie to side-step a sticky situation or perhaps to get attention. Sometimes kids tell lies to elevate their social standing among peers or to gain an advantage. Other times, a child may feel threatened, insecure or guilty.



By four years old, almost all kids will begin experimenting with lying. Kids with older siblings may start even earlier – at two or three. In fact, early lying can be a sign of intelligence, because think about all that a lie requires. You have to know a fact; realize that someone else doesn’t know that fact; tell that other person a new, untrue fact; and then – most difficult of all – you have to remember to only talk about that false version of events, and not let the truth slip into your conversation.

Pinocchio is often a term used to describe an individual who is prone to telling lies, fabricating stories and 14773b2971c73b-43.-Pinocchioexaggerating or creating tall tales for various reasons. Pinocchio is known for having a long nose that becomes longer when he is under stress, especially while telling a lie. Only when he lies.

Knowing when children are lying and when they are not is often  a hard task for parents.  There are, however, many clues parents can look for to decide whether children are lying or telling the truth.

Facial Expression….

Clearness of statements…..


-If children are telling you the truth their statements do not sound rehearsed. If statements sound rehearsed parents can ask questions to see how their children sound coming up with the answers.

-Parents should listen carefully to what their children tell them. Are there any inconsistencies in what their children tell them. Do their statements make sense?  Does what they say sound credible?

When children are relaxed they are generally relaxed, and their facial expressions show it. Children who are not telling the truth appear anxious and their facial expressions show  their anxiety.

Here are the Top Ten Lies Parents tell their Children……(which ones have you used before.)

1. I always paid attention in school.

2. There is no such thing as a favorite child.  All of my children are my favorites.

3. Sorry the playground is closed today.

4. Cuddles, the Hamster went to live on nice farm. Yes the same one your Goldfish went.

5. I have Santa Claus’s cell phone number on speed dial.  Do you want me to tell him how you are acting.

6. Whoops the Kidzbop CD is in Dad’s car and he is on his way to work.

7. SpongeBob isn’t on all week and the DVD player is broken and the cable is out.

8. Of  course I wore to work today the macaroni necklace and bracelet you made me.

9. Daddy is allergic to cats/dogs/ reptiles, and birds.

10. I never took drugs.

Humor him or her. It may seem counter intuitive — after all, you don’t want to encourage lies — but the best way to handle this stage is to relax, enjoy your preschooler’s tall tales, and gently nurture her instincts to be truthful. Highly embroidered fantasies are generally harmless and part of a preschooler’s normal development. After all, you read fairy tales to your child — why shouldn’t she offer some of her own?

The same goes for imaginary friends. Pretend pals are normal and signal a child’s well-developed imagination. Even when your preschooler blames a misdeed on her “friend,” there’s nothing to worry about. From an emotional standpoint, imaginary friends serve an important purpose: They give a child a safe way to find out who she wants to be.

trust-me-im-lyingDon’t accuse. Couch your comments so they encourage confession, not denial: “I wonder how these crayons got all over the living room carpet? I wish someone would help me pick them up.”

Be sympathetic. It’s easy to understand why your preschooler — who’s just spilled apple juice all over Grandma’s new carpet — doesn’t want to ‘fess up to it. Explain to her that instead of trying to wish that spill away, she could admit to it and help make things better by cleaning it up with Grandma. If she wasn’t supposed to be drinking juice in the living room to begin with, gently point out her wrongdoing, but also praise her for owning up to it. Eventually she’ll catch on that telling the truth is less painful than telling a lie.

Explain why honesty is important. Your preschooler may tell you that she knows lying is bad, but until she’s 5 or 6, she won’t fully grasp the moral implications of being untruthful. In the meantime, teach her about honesty by telling her the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” which drives home the importance of being trustworthy and also teaches her that lying can have serious consequences.

Be positive, not punitive. If you expect your preschooler to tell you when she’s done something wrong, don’t respond to her honesty by venting your anger at her. (If you do, how likely is she to admit her wrongdoing the next time?) Besides being inappropriate at this age, a harsh penalty for lying probably won’t have the desired effect: Children who are severely punished for minor offenses often go to extremes, developing an overly strict conscience or becoming pint-sized rebels — neither of which you’re aiming for. Instead, praise your preschooler when she tells the truth. Positive reinforcement is much more effective than punishment in making her feel that it’s worth it to be on the up-and-up.

Reassure your preschooler that you love her no matter what. When she accidentally breaks your bedroom lamp, she may deny it for fear that you won’t love her as much. Explain that Mommy and Daddy still love her, even when she’s done something you’d rather she didn’t.

Build trust. Let your preschooler know that you trust her and that you can be trusted, too. If she’s due for a shot atArgus-Honesty-Poster-N20405_XL her next checkup, for instance, don’t tell her it won’t hurt. Try to keep your word, and when you can’t, apologize for breaking a promise.

Let her know what you expect of her. Use different situations to teach your preschooler what you consider acceptable behavior. Establish parameters, for instance, by letting her know that before she takes a cookie off of someone else’s plate, she needs to first ask if it’s okay. Providing clearly defined limits is one of the most loving, positive things you can do for your preschooler. Eventually, she’ll be able to use them to judge for herself whether a behavior is appropriate. A child who understands that limits are for her benefit will grow up to be an adult who respects them, too.



  • Always model “telling the truth”, avoid “little white lies”.
  • Teach your child through role playing, the value of telling the truth. This will take time and some patience.
  • Role play the potential devastating consequences of lying.
  • Do not accept excuses for lying, lying is not acceptable.
  • Children should understand the hurtful consequences of lying and whenever possible, they should apologizefingers-crossed for lying.
  • Logical consequences need to be in place for the child who lies.
  • No matter what, children need to know that lying is never acceptable and will not be tolerated.
  • Children often lie to keep their parents or teacher happy, they need to know that you value the truth much more than a small act of misbehavior.
  • Children need to be part of the solution and or consequences. Ask them what they are prepared to give or do as a result of the lie.
  • Remind the child that you’re upset with what he/she did. Reinforce that it’s not the child but what he/she did that upset you and let him/her know that you are disappointed. You know the saying – bring them up before you bring them down. For instance: “It is so unlike you to lie about your homework, you’re so good at getting things done and staying on top of things.”
  • Praise the truth! Catch them telling the truth at a time when you know they would like to sugar coat a situation.
  • Avoid lectures and quick irrational decisions. E.g., if you lie again, you’ll be grounded for a year!”

Be proactive in teaching about honesty. Tell stories from your life or read stories like: The Emperor’s New Clothes

The Boy who Cried Wolf


Ananias and Sapphira from the Bible

There are several good books at your local library on this subject which are written for children and are well illustrated to capture their interest.

Above all else, it is important to remember that lying is a part of life and a normal part of childhood development. Obviously, it can get out of hand and create severe problems as children get older if left unchecked. However, if you treat it as part of the child-rearing package and handle it with respect and understanding, more than likely children will learn that they don’t need to lie and it isn’t nearly as taboo as they once thought and it will lose it’s luster.

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