Child Lying

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Lying is an intentional misrepresentation of reality, as distinguished from the innocent fantasy common to preschoolers whose notion of truth and falsehood has yet to develop clearly. Children lie for a number of different reasons, and in many cases it is a normal part of development.. That is a fact most parents would attest to with utter dismay. They don't seem to need instruction on lying or any encouragement to do so. Children exaggerate, twist the truth, hide the facts, manufacture stories, and deny the obvious. Children may also lie to avoid being punished or because they are imitating adult behavior.

Preschoolers often don't yet understand that lying is wrong and dishonest. Because of this, parents probably should not punish their preschoolers for lying. Instead, parents should, when their children lie, use the occasions as teaching opportunities to teach your child the difference between right and wrong. When their preschooler lies, parents should take the opportunity to teach their child why lying is wrong. It is important to encourage your child to tell the truth and provide him with a good role model, by telling the truth yourself and not lying. Avoid punishing your child too severely when she does finally confess for any misdeeds, or she may avoid telling truth next time.

Children might lie because they are afraid of their parents' temperament. It is not surprising that constantly angry, shouting, rigid or restrictive parents often encounter compulsively lying children. Honest communication develops when you allow room for negotiation, compromise, listen before accusing, and keep your volume down when dealing with your children when they lie or even tell the truth. If these are isolated episodes, you have little to worry about and should remain calm. If these bad behaviors become more of a habit, then you may have a problem and may need to seek professional help to find out why it is happening. If your child lies out of habit, you might want to give the child an opportunity to retract the lie without fear of consequences.

Children might lie to impress others, boast their self esteem, to get something that they want or even to protect someone they love. Parents should let their children know that telling the truth lets other people know that they can be trusted. They should also let their children know that lying is dishonest, and there are often negative consequences for lying. Communicate effectively with your children. Research shows that in households where children have open and communicative relationship with their parents, they are less likely to lie to them. Set a good example for your child, so that it will be easier for him/her to learn right from wrong behaviors.

If lying is not addressed at all, children will not develop a clear sense of truth and falsehood, nor an understanding of the importance of honesty in personal and social relationships. Children's natural sense of right and wrong will eventually be deadened if they do not receive consistently appropriate cues from the adults in their lives. When adults ignore lying, or even reward it by allowing children to get what they want by lying, children can become desensitized to their guilt. A child with a desensitized conscience may grow into an adult with little self-control.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,