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When a Child Lies

How To Help the Lying Child

It’s our job to help our kids understand the importance of honesty. Being trust-worthy (worthy of trust) is the key to solid friendships, trusting romantic relationships, and academic and occupational success. Honesty really and truly is the best policy.

  • The first requirement is the hardest. Our job is to be consistently good models of honest living. If we want to raise honest kids, we can’t model the opposite. We can’t duck responsibilities or brag about avoiding something we really should have done. We need to live our lives with integrity and demonstrate in a thousand different ways that we think it’s important to be an honest man or woman.
  • Stay calm. Losing it will take the focus off the issue and put it on your anger and frustration. Are you pretty sure your kid lied to you? Before dealing with it, go to your happy place. Breathe. Count. Pray. Are you calm now? Ok. Now talk to the kid.
  • Take the time to train and explain. When little ones stretch the truth or tell tall tales, don’t accuse them of lying. Instead talk about how we may wish some things were true and that it’s fun to pretend, play and imagine. By all means, don’t shut down their creativity but do help them understand that there’s a time for play and a time for real life.
  • Understand that comprehending moral issues is difficult. Give your child the benefit of the doubt. If she or he really did lie, give them a way to back down. Then talk about what happened and what they can do differently the next time they are tempted to lie.
  • Look for the reason behind the lie. Make that part of the conversation. If it’s about being “cool,” fitting in, or avoiding an embarrassment, see if there are other ways the child can accomplish the same goal. Stay focused on what happened and why it really wasn’t a good idea to lie about it.
  • Did you catch your child in a bald lie? Parents shouldn’t mimic interrogators. Trying to force the truth out of kids only makes them more scared. It’s enough to simply say that we’re reasonably sure they’re wrong and to ask them if they want to stick with their story. Stay with the facts and set clear consequences. Name-calling or losing it will only make it harder for your child to tell the truth the next time.
  • Never label a kid as a liar. When a kid’s identity gets tangled up with a label, it becomes harder and harder to correct. Some kids become good at being bad when they are convinced there isn’t a way to win approval and love by being good.
When a Child Lies

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). When a Child Lies. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.