22 Apr

Why do kids lie? What parents can do to stop it?

kids lying


In the dictionary, it says that to tell a lie is to purposely say something that is not true because you want to make other people believe it. Everyone lies at one or another point of life due to various reasons. From a small child of two to adults, everyone is prone to telling lies. But when this lying becomes a habit, it can cause problems for the person. His family and friends will lose faith in him and will never believe even if he says the truth. Have we not heard of the shepherd boy story who would call “Wolf! Wolf!” just for the sake of fun when there was no wolf around. Lying is a bad habit which starts from childhood. As parents we need to understand why the child is lying and find a solution before, he becomes a liar. So before you continue reading the blog, we would request you to watch this video because it will help you, approach this situation in a better way.

Why do children lie:

There are various reasons why children lie. Most of the lies are to avoid something, to escape consequences of mistakes done or to hurt others. This reflects the negative side of the child.

1. To evade tasks:

Small children like to evade tasks which are unpleasant to them. The tasks can be doing homework, cleaning the room, keeping things in place, sharing things, etc. Instead of doing the task, they will avoid it by telling a lie and making their parents believe that they have followed their orders.

2. To avoid punishment:

The children become aware of punishment which is meted out by parents at home and by teachers at school. When the child has committed a mistake or not complied with instructions, they become aware that they will be punished which is unpleasant. To avoid this punishment, they further tell lies.

3. To cover mistakes:

The children are prone to do mistakes such as cheating, stealing, copying, blaming, etc as an easy way out. When discovered, they try to cover up their mistakes by telling lies. Either they flatly refuse to admit their mistake or try to put the blame on others.

4. To test new behavior:

Some children just want to test how they can get away from the lie. It’s fun for them trying to fool their friends or family. When this becomes a habit, they get into real trouble.

5. Boasting:

Children who have low confidence try to make it up by boasting which is another form of telling lies. There are children who boast about the latest gadgets they have acquired, exotic places they have visited and the palatial bungalows they live in which is all fabricated to raise their self-esteem. The boasting works for some time until the truth is found out.

6. To impress the parent or teacher:

Many children do not want to carry out the instructions given by parents or teachers and instead try to impress them by telling lies. Example – I have done a wonderful project but it was stolen by somebody who is jealous of me.

7. Being greedy and not sharing with others:

Sometimes children want everything for themselves and they are not ready to share. A child might have received five chocolates from the birthday girl in her class. When the mother asks her to share with her brother, she says she has only one chocolate not wanting to share.

8. To avoid an unpleasant task:

I remember we had to wash the dishes after dinner. My brother would disappear into his room saying he is not feeling well just to avoid the work. Each child will try different strategies to avoid tasks which are unpleasant for them.

9. To enhance self-esteem and gain power:

The child may not be able to impress his friends for he doesn’t have any special talent or possessions. Instead, he will resort to grandiose lies to enhance his self-esteem and gain power on his peers.

why do children lie
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Some more reasons, why a child lies:

Many times, the children lie so that they do not hurt others, protect themselves and to keep the secrets safe. Such lies are also called white lies and it helps the child to be out of trouble.

1. Not to hurt others:

Many times, the child is asked to give his opinion and when he knows that his fair opinion will hurt his friend, he will tell lie just to please his friend and uplift his mood. Here there is no harm done because of the lie. If a child has drawn a simple picture with lots of interest, we can tell a lie saying that the picture is excellent to encourage the child.

2. To protect themselves:

When the child is all alone in the house and there is a telephone call asking for her parents what would she say? If she tells the truth, she will never know if the person on the other side of the phone is a thief. She must protect herself and the house by telling a lie. The lie can be that her mother is sleeping, and she can’t disturb her.

3. To keep the secrets safe:

When somebody asks where they house keys are, the child can lie saying he doesn’t know even if he knows. In social gatherings or family events, some crafty adults may try to find out family secrets from innocent kids. It’s always better to lie than, to tell the truth, and get into trouble.

4. Not to cause anxiety in parents:

Some children lie to get the focus off from them especially from concerned parents. They do not want to cause anxiety to their parents. Sometimes when a child is not feeling well, she may say she is okay just to reassure her mother. The intention is good but hiding the truth is not always okay.

How lying changes with age:

Usually, a child will start lying from the ages of 2 to 4. When the child is young, he/she will tell direct lies which are very easy to catch. The child when confronted will say a simple lie like, I don’t know, I didn’t do it, someone has taken it, etc. When probed further he will spill out the beans. When a teen is questioned, he may be more creative in telling lies. He will make up a story to tell why he couldn’t complete an assignment or why he was late to come home from school. This is because his perspective- taking ability has developed.

How parents and teachers can encourage kids to tell the truth:

As adults, we should make the kids aware that lying is not okay and it will get them into trouble. We should not speak lies in any circumstances and be the role models for children to emulate. We must make it very clear to our children about what information they should share with us so that any time they get into trouble, as parents and teachers we can rescue them. As parents, we can encourage and support the children’s truth-telling habit in three ways.

1. Avoid corporal punishment:

As adults and caregivers, we tend to over discipline our children and mete out corporal punishment when we find the child lying. We may hit with a stick, pinch, slap, etc to punish the child. The child may remember the physical pain but will forget why he has been punished. Further such punishments will not solve the problem (telling lies) but lower the self-esteem of the child. Instead, we can scold or give time out which can be more effective.

2. Open dialogue:

Instead of stressing on telling the truth it is better to have an open dialogue with the children. Discuss the consequences of telling lies, how it can hurt somebody, spoil relationships, and spoil their own reputation. Make them aware that telling truth is always better than hiding it.

3. Discourage blending truth:

Many young children tend to blend truth with imagination. They will tell the truth but in their own version adding their imagination. Older children will report arguments or statements but in the slightly twisted form to get the advantage or to squeeze out from an embarrassing situation. We should make it very clear to the children that a lie is a lie in whatever form it is. Any lie should be thoroughly investigated.

How to know when your child is lying?

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1. What the children are eating when they are out.
2. Whether they have completed their assignments.
3. How they are doing at school.
4. Their behavior at home, school and outside.
5. Who their friends are and how they interact?
6. What are the TV programs they watch?
7. Which internet sites they visit.
8. Which social media they are part of.
9. Is somebody bullying them or doing something to them which they know is bad.

Closing thoughts:

Any child will tend to lie when caught in a tight spot. Lying is a defense mechanism for them by which they try to escape from unwanted situations or reality. They are too young to realize that lying will get them into more trouble. Sometimes it becomes a habit and continues even after the children have grown up affecting their character, personality, and interpersonal relationships. As parents, we need to observe our children, make them aware of the pitfalls of lying and guide them to choose truthful options rather than lying.

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Radhika is a freelance poet, writer and teacher settled at Secunderabad. She is also a life skills trainer for children. Her articles and poems have been published in Woman's Era, Teacher Plus, The Hindu and websites like wow parenting. Her husband Rayudu and son Prashanth support and inspire her in her endeavours.