Why Kids Lie: From Moms Who’ve Been There

I have a loose parenting style and while I’m not proud of it, I don’t apologize for it either. But there’s one area that I won’t tolerate any nonsense with – and that’s lying. My son gets more screen time than he should, eats more sugar than I should let him and goes to bed later than is probably good for him. But LYING? Forget about it. There’s no excuse for it and I won’t accept it in my house.

The way I see it, even small fibs or untruths can get out of hand and I don’t want this type of behavior to turn into a habit. Since my son was a toddler, I have tried to nip the deceit in the bud and tried to explain to my son why I feel so strongly about it. And look – it still happens every now and then – because, kids. But why DO kids lie? And what is the appropriate response?

Since it’s such a common issue among little ones, I sat  down with other moms and asked them to weigh in about why kids lie. Here’s what they had to say:

Fear

“Kids don’t tell the truth because they are scared of how are we going to react to the situation. They want to avoid punishment or an unpleasant outcome. Look, it’s hard for kids to be honest all the time when they know they may face being grounded or a good tongue-lashing. I have to be aware of how I respond because if they are worried about being yelled at, they won’t come clean. I find that remaining calm and focusing on solutions to solve the problem yields better results.”

– Angela, mom of an only child age 12

Disappointment

“My kids lie because they want to avoid losing favor in my eyes. The last thing they want to do is disappoint me – and they would rather lie than have me think less of them for something they did or didn’t do. I try to lay on the praise when they do tell the truth to get the message across. I will acknowledge that it must have been hard to tell me what really happened and that I admire them for doing it.”

– Rosemary, mom of three age 10, 8 and 7

Curiosity or Just Testing the Water

“Lying can be because our kids are testing the water. They have not lied in the past, thus they want to know how it feels and what will happen if they don’t tell the truth. Or they want to test their independence. I try to use every opportunity I have to explain what a lie is and why it is bad.” – Diane, mom of two age 15 and 11.

To Boost Their Self-Esteem or Self-Confidence

“There was this one time that my son told us that he scored nine goals and that the entire school cheered for him. Knowing him, I knew that he was making up a story. Sometimes kids lie to boost their self-confidence and to make their stories more exciting. They try to impress people or get others to like them by stretching the truth. I try to praise him frequently and I encourage him to recognize his strengths so he doesn’t feel like he needs to fib about his accomplishments.”  – Aby, mom of two super active boys age 9 and 6

Seeking Attention or Deceiving Others to Get What They Want

“Children, especially the little ones, sometimes lie because they are seeking attention. These lies are usually inconsequential. For example, my preschooler once told me that he saw a flying car on the highway. In this case, I don’t normally spend too much time on it. I may smile and say, ‘wouldn’t that be cool if that could really happen?’ and then move on to a different topic. Sometimes I explain that the main difference between pretend play and lying is that pretending is fun and harmless, while lying can hurt people.” – Charlene, mom of a 12-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy.