Relationship Connection: Children and lying

Photo by Lavinia Marin


How can I get my 6 year-old son to quit lying?


Parents naturally get angry when their children lie. It’s understandable to worry about your child having a character defect or creating trust issues with others.

First of all, be careful not to encourage lying. Some parents ask their children questions to which they already know the answer. A parent of a child who clearly took scissors without permission might be tempted to ask a question like, “did you take the scissors without permission?” Instead, it’s more helpful to simply say something such as, “please don’t take the scissors without first asking permission.”

This may seem like a small thing, but setting up our children with a scenario where we already know the answer to the question puts them in a frustrating bind. We often create situations where children receive double punishments for something that could have been handled more directly.

Additionally, some parents discourage their children from telling the truth when they won’t accept a child’s honest answer. For example, a child may yell, “I hate my teacher.”

If the parent responds with a comment such as, “You don’t really hate your teacher”, the child has to decide if they’ll stay with their authentic feeling or change it to please the parent.

Consider validating the child’s honest and authentic expression by responding with, “your teacher really bothers you.” This also presents a great opportunity to talk about the child’s concerns.

Children tell lies for many reasons. Preschool-age children begin to notice the difference between reality and fantasy. Older children often learn they can distort reality by stretching the truth.

For example, a child might brag that they are the smartest kid in their class. Instead of treating this as a lie, it’s helpful to take the child’s age and intentions into consideration. It might be more helpful to say something like, “You love to learn!”  “I can tell you want to know everything!”

As children grow up, we often become less tolerant of lying and, as a result, struggle to know how to respond. The most important advice I can offer is to make sure we combine directness with kindness when dealing with children’s lies.

For example, if your son claims he turned in his homework, but you discover it in his room the following day, it would be tempting to punish him for not only failing to turn it in, but also lying about it.

Instead, you could respond by revealing the unpleasant truth that you discovered his homework in his room even though he claimed it was already turned in. You can acknowledge that his homework will be overdue now and let him face the consequences of his poor choices.

Matter-of-fact responses that respect the consequences of lying combined with seeking to understand why he needed to lie allows him to feel the weight of his situation.

It’s likely that all children will misrepresent the truth at some point in their development. We help them the most when we help them face the truth with kindness and respect.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright St. George News, Inc., 2012, all rights reserved

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  • Murat August 15, 2012 at 11:16 am

    I teach my children the art and science of managing and manipulating people in order to grow successful businesses, and this includes strategic lies. People who do not learn these things are very likely to remain lifelong peasants.

  • wt*? August 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Manipulating people? You must be trying for the “Father Of The Year” award………..Do the producers of Criminal Minds come to you for inspiration for the inner workings of a mad mans mind?

    • Murat August 16, 2012 at 10:57 am

      The result is not that of a mad man, but a cool, calm, highly intelligent strategic operator in the business world.

  • wtf? August 16, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    If you really are as intelligent as you think you are, (Think being the operative word in that sentence),you would not have to resort to such trickery to have a successful business.I often wonder if you have sold your soul to the devil. Have you ever watched “American Greed” on MSNBC? If you haven’t ,you should watch.Maybe you can get some ideas from there to help you manipulate and lie better.I have an amazing ability to lie and manipulate people but I learned long ago that I can get more out of this world by not lying and not manipulating.But I don’t think you could get rid of your superiority complex long enough to find that out.

    • Murat August 17, 2012 at 11:39 am

      You will not achieve soaring success. Your businesses are mediocre.

  • wtf? August 17, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    We have two opposing views on the meaning of success.

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