Why does my child keep lying to me?
Knowing what to do when your child lies to you is challenging. On the one hand, you don’t want to shame them, and on the other, you want to teach them valuable lessons with healthy discipline when it comes to guiding them to be honest. As always, parenting is a continual balancing act between loving discipline and extending grace.
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As adults, we too know how hard it is to be honest. Whether it’s because we don’t want to hurt or disappoint someone, or reveal who we truly are, there will always be a temptation to lie, whatever your age. But the earlier one can learn to not give in to that temptation to lie, the better. And what better place to learn this than in a healthy home environment.
When it comes to raising emotionally and mentally healthy kids, which is what we talk about a LOT on the blog, lying is one of those things parents deal with on a regular basis. And while it’s important to remember that kids WILL lie — it’s normal and might not be something to be worried about — it does require parents to take action.
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Imagination vs Deception
Most children when they’re young love to fantasize. It’s a normal and good thing for kids to develop their imagination, and should never be a cause for concern unless there continues to be a disconnect of reality vs play. But children coming up with elaborate stories that aren’t necessarily “truth” is a healthy part of developing imagination. It’s playing!
But when a child is intentionally lying to get out of trouble, it becomes a cause for parents to take action and do something about it.
Why kids lie
A child will lie for various reasons and it definitely depends on a certain situation. They may lie to get out of a consequence, try and hide their sin because they are ashamed, or lie to try and get attention. It’s important parents get to the bottom of the REASON their child is lying, especially if it’s continual.
If your child is lying because they want attention, this may alert you to be more intentional with your child and give them the attention they need. If your child is lying because they don’t feel the freedom to share the truth with you out of fear, you may want to adjust how you react to their shortcomings. If a child feels that you’re a safe space to come to, even with the hard stuff, then lying won’t be their first reaction from doing something wrong.
The crux of the matter
Because I offer advice not only from personal experience but also in relation to my faith, I address things differently than most common parenting techniques, whether that’s in the Christian world or not. I believe it’s our job as parents to filter everything that is “popular” when it comes to parenting advice. While many different forms offer valuable information, it’s important to align it with your child. For us, because we are Christian, we desire to weigh everything with the Word of God. We ask ourselves, “Is this in line with what God would desire of our parenting?” or “How does my child’s personality make my parenting different?” At the end of the day, we all want our children to experience this life to its fullest and become kind humans, but it’s not always as easy as coming up with the perfect formula.
While one child may need more of a firm hand, another might need more grace. That’s why deeply understanding who your child is and their overarching needs will be your most valuable asset when it comes to parenting.
So the crux of the matter for us as Christians lies in the fact that all of us are human, sinful, and in need of grace. We aren’t perfect. And truly understanding this allows us to see our children through this lens. As ambassadors of Christ, we GUIDE our children, we don’t control them. As imitators of God’s love, we balance grace with discipline. And as fellow sinners, we allow empathy to cover our perspective. At the end of the day, we are no less sinners than our children. So being a loving authority figure doesn’t mean we look down on them as more sinful, but knowing our own sin, we see them as just in need of grace as we are.
But because they are still children, they need a healthy adult — the parent that God placed in their life — to teach them not only what to do with temptation, but how to take responsibility when they sin.
What to do when your child lies to you
Now that we’ve discussed the why, let’s look at some practical ways to address when your child lies to you.
1. Get to the root of the lying
As I discussed earlier, it’s important to do a little detective work as to WHY your child is lying. Do they need more attention from you? Do they need to feel safer to share the hard things? Asking your child on a regular basis, “Is there something you want to tell me that might be hard to say?” is a great way to create an opportunity for them to share something they are hiding.
In our home, we have talks as a family and say, “You can share anything with me right now and you won’t get in trouble for it.” As a parent, I would rather know the truth of what my child is doing or experiencing than never know about it. It’s these moments that create ample opportunities for us to have healthy conversations and come alongside our son to help him solve his problems instead of leaving him to figure out life’s struggles alone.
2. Establish boundaries and rules for when your kids lie
Instead of reacting to your child lying with anger, you can have rules set in place so your child knows what happens when they lie. They will get a consequence, no questions asked. Because we want to avoid getting angry or shaming our child when they lie, this will allow for your child to know what to expect if they have lied.
There is no shaming or anger involved, but rather you will remind them of the boundary you have set. Whatever that consequence is, I think it’s important that the discipline fits the deception. As an example, if they lie and say they have brushed their teeth when they didn’t, then don’t allow them any sugar for the rest of the week. But make sure you make the consequence severe enough that they won’t want to do it again — that’s the point of a consequence!
It’s also important to dig a little deeper. Tell them why it’s important to brush our teeth, and you asking them to do it is because you care about their health and the repercussions of not doing it daily can result in them losing their teeth when they’re older. When my son was around age 5, he lied about brushing his teeth so I googled “people with rotten teeth” and showed him what happens when you don’t take care of your mouth. That definitely stuck in his mind for a few years!
You can also discuss how lying breaks trust in the home and there are other repercussions when someone lies. Creating a healthy home environment is one that has honesty at the forefront, and when they lie, it makes it harder for you to trust them.
3. Model honesty
I’m always recommending that parents understand the value of modeling healthy habits for their children. Being a healthy example is the best form of teaching when it comes to parenting. If you’re not being honest to those around you, your children will see that. Let’s say you want to cancel your dinner with someone because something better came up so you call that person and say you’re not feeling well so you can get out of it. This is an instance where you’re setting a bad example of honesty for your kids. They will learn that you can lie to get out of something you don’t want to do.
If you expect your children to be honest to you, then be honest to your spouse, to them, and those around you. Kids soak up a lot more than we realize.
When tweens and teens lie
Lying becomes a whole new ball game to deal with in parenting when your kids are older than when they are young and simply lie to get out of trouble. At this age, parents begin to realize that the deception is more deliberate.
Parents should respond to their older child lying a bit differently than a simple consequence. They need to dig deeper and ask their tween or teen what they are feeling. Ask them why they felt the need to lie and empathize with them. Tell them you understand it's hard to always tell the truth, but lying isn't the solution. Share a story from your past of when you lied and how it negatively affected your life. Allowing your child to see that lying is a part of being human, they won't feel ashamed, but rather less lonely in their sin. At the end of the day, lying is what we all do. But to help your child kick the habit earlier than later will allow them to be more successful in their relationships, including with their future spouse and someday children. There is something to be said about having a clean conscience and being an honest person. Teaching them honesty will not only help them through their adolescence but throughout their entire life!
You want to ask yourself, "What kind of human do I want to raise and how can I help guide them there?" But remember, it's not about controlling them to be who YOU want them to be. It's about guiding them to be who God wants them to be. Think back to your teenage years and what kind of adult you would have appreciated to come alongside and help you? Be that for them.
If you're a Christian, point them to verses or stories that talk about honesty -- you'll find plenty of them! When kids can see that the Bible is full of people who screw up but at the same time receive God's grace and love, they will be encouraged, knowing that perfection is never something that God has asked of us.
It all comes back to being a healthy example
You know what I said earlier about children being attentive to the actions of their parents? At this age, kids who have witnessed situations when lying has gotten you out of a bad circumstance might want to test it out for themselves. As parents, being a healthy example can make all the difference.
Teens can start using lying to their benefit when it comes to social situations. Perhaps they don't want to talk about how they truly feel, so they lie to not have to talk about it. It's these reasons parents need to be attuned to their child's emotional needs, even more so as they get older. If kids feel safe sharing their hearts with their parents, they won't revert to people-pleasing behavior.
Older kids can lie for a variety of reasons, especially if there is something traumatic that's going on in their life and they feel that lying is a way to get attention. Even if the attention is negative, it's attention nonetheless. Be alert as to what your tween or teen needs, and do your best to fulfill that. Be in constant communication with them, and LISTEN to them. But don't just listen so you can give your advice and respond, but listen to truly understand and empathize. As no parent is perfect, it's never too late to do your best to meet the emotional needs of your child.
Read more about meeting the emotional needs of your child through daily questions here.
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Book List for Kids and Parents
Journaling for Kids
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Chores for Kids
Magnetized Chalk Chart for Fridge
Implementing chores and structure in your child's daily life is a VERY helpful tool to teach them follow through, discipline, and respect. We use this chore chart in our family to help our kids keep track of their own progress, and keep you from having to constantly remind them of their daily tasks.
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Emotional Connectivity with Your Kids
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