Kids and Lying


Q: I've recently noticed that my son is lying about certain things, and I'm concerned.  Sometimes he lies about things that don't even matter or are not important. What should I do? I've tried to talk to him, but it doesn't seem to make a difference. He has always had good manners, and he is a good student. I keep hoping this is just a phase. Should I take him to see a counselor? 

A: Lying is considered by most child specialists to be a natural part of development during early childhood. Making up stories is part of a normal fantasy life for young children, and lying can be common in preschoolers. Children in this age group often don't yet understand that lying is wrong and dishonest. Children from ages 5 to 6 have learned the difference between lies and truth. When children reach this stage, parents should begin disciplining when lies are told.

There are several reasons children may lie:

To avoid punishment and stay out of trouble.To impress others; they may tell stories to make themselves feel good.To boost self-esteem; they're seeking attention and praise from others.To get something they want.To protect others; children are loyal to friends and family members.And, if they hear their parents lying, they might feel it is acceptable behavior.

So, what can you do when you suspect your child is lying?

Explain and discuss why telling the truth is so important. Children need to know that lying doesn't gain them anything, and it breaks down the trust between parent and child.Model truthfulness for your children. Your child is smart enough to notice, even if it's only a little white lie. They may think, if it's OK for you to lie, it's OK for me to lie. Discipline for lying. Parents should set specific rules for lying and specific punishments when it occurs. It is a good idea for parents to provide separate punishments for misbehavior and lying. When children misbehave but are honest about it, they should get a lesser punishment than when they misbehave and lie about it.Be consistent in how you handle the situation.Make sure lying is not rewarded. By all means, if you find out your child has lied to get something he or she wants, immediately take action.Don't shame your children for lying. Parents can let their children know that they are disappointed with their actions, but they should try to avoid sending the message that they are bad people for lying.Don't set children up. Parents who are sure that their children have done some misdeed should not try to trap them in a lie by asking them whether or not they did it. Many children will lie to protect themselves when they are backed into a corner. Instead, parents should treat the situation matter-of-factly.Do your best to figure out why your child is lying, then look for solutions. Is there a specific pattern? Has something happened in your child's life recently that has somehow encouraged this behavior?

Early intervention in the case of compulsive lying may reduce the risk of the child developing this habit. Children who are chronic liars are often found to engage in other antisocial behaviors.  If a child starts adding misbehaviors such as fighting, cheating and stealing, this could indicate that the child has not yet developed a moral conscience and may need professional help. A good place to start would be with your child's school counselor. Maybe your child is struggling with a situation at school that could help shed some light on why lying has become an issue. Counseling may help to uncover any underlying conditions such as bipolar disorder or learning disabilities. 

Most children, with the benefit of a loving family where honesty is valued, will more often than not come to realize that lying is not an appropriate behavior. However, if the problem persists, it will increase the possibility that they will have to deal with the negative consequences that follow.

Maripat Moore, MD, works for Moses Cone Behavioral Health in Kernersville. Submit your questions to "Is My Kid OK?" by e-mailing


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