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How to Get Children to Stop Lying: 25 Tips for Parents

Honesty is the basis for any relationship because it develops trust and upon that foundation simple things like communication and responsibility rest. When a youngster lies, that trust is broken and relationships suffer.

Moms and dads often don't know how to handle dishonesty and common discipline techniques don't quite address the problem. A more comprehensive plan is usually necessary since lying often has several components. Here are some ways to handle lying:

1. Ask your youngster why he was lying. Kids lie for a variety of reasons: to impress friends, to escape consequences or because of an active imagination. When you find out why your youngster is lying, it becomes easier to deal with the situation. For instance, you wouldn't discipline a youngster who is lying to protect someone the same way you would discipline a youngster who is avoiding consequences. Ask your youngster about the reason for the lying so you know how to prevent lying in the future.

2. Avoid disciplining your youngster for telling lies in public or in front of friends. If you observe your youngster telling a lie while around others, wait for a private moment to talk to her about the causes and consequences of lying. Admonishing your youngster in public can embarrass her and cause further lying to avoid similar reactions in the future.

3. A courtesy generally given in relationships is called, "the benefit of the doubt." When a youngster has developed a pattern of lying, we don't automatically give that courtesy. Believing someone requires trust, and it's a privilege which is earned. Privilege and responsibility go together, and when a youngster is irresponsible, then privileges are taken away. For a time, the things your youngster says are suspect. You may even question something that is found to be true later. A youngster may be hurt by this, but that hurt is the natural consequence of mistrust, which in turn comes from lying. Being believed is a privilege earned when kids are responsible in telling the truth on a regular basis. Not believing your youngster may seem mean, but your youngster must learn that people who don't tell the truth can't be trusted. Tell your youngster that you would like to believe him or her, but you cannot until he or she earns that privilege.

4. Be honest yourself. Say, "That doesn't sound like the truth to me. Most of us don't tell the truth when we are feeling trapped, scared, or threatened in some way. Why don't we take some time off from this right now? Later I'll be available if you would like to share with me what is going on for you."

5. Confrontation should result in making amends. This may seem unrealistic at first, but keep it in mind as your goal. Kids who are confronted with the fact that they are telling a lie should immediately agree and apologize. A youngster who is defensive is relying on arguing and justifying as manipulative techniques in order to avoid taking responsibility. This is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.

6. Create predictable consequences your youngster can count on. The consequences should be consistent and a natural effect of the lying. For instance, a youngster who tells tall tales learns that you no longer believe their stories. A youngster who lies to get out of a chore no longer is trusted with responsibilities. A youngster who is caught lying to a friend or family member is expected to confess the truth. These predictable, consistent and natural consequences teach your youngster about the importance of telling the truth.

7. Don't label your youngster a liar. People live to their labels. When you label your youngster a liar, you run the risk of that label becoming an identification and mode of behavior for your youngster.

8. Enforce your own rules. If you don't want to be lied to, enforce the punishment for lying. Many parents think they are giving out punishment when in fact, they aren't. As a parent, you have to be willing to choose the punishment and then police it. For example, if you say there will be no phone privileges for lying, there truly need to be no phone privileges, even if you have to take the phone out of the house.

9. Explain to your youngster how important it is to be trusted in life. Ask your youngster if she would be willing to work with you on developing trust.

10. Focus on solutions to problems instead of blame. "What should we do about getting the chores done?" instead of, "Did you do your chores?"

11. Help kids believe that mistakes are opportunities to learn so they won't believe they are bad and need to cover up their mistakes.

12. Know that lying is a learned but changeable behavior. People do what works. If lying has gotten your youngster what he wants while escaping accountability from you, the payoff is a luring incentive to continue. It's a parent's responsibility not to let it continue by creating consequences.

13. Let kids know they are unconditionally loved. Many kids lie because they are afraid the truth will disappoint their parents.

14. Let your youngster know that you value the truth more than the misbehavior. You would be more angry with a lie than with what he did wrong.

15. Lying may continue to cover up past lies. If a youngster has been given too much freedom, he may have had to make choices that he wasn't equipped to make and done things that he now knows were wrong. Lying may continue in an effort to hide those things.

16. Offer praise for truth-telling as a way to positively discipline your youngster into telling the truth and avoiding lies. Be specific in your praise. If you notice your youngster telling the truth in a difficult situation, say "Thanks for telling the truth. I know it was hard, but it made your friend feel much better." Remember that discipline is not an inherently negative experience; positive discipline can have impressive results in urging your youngster to tell the truth.

17. Respect your kid's privacy when they don't want to share with you.

18. Set an example in telling the truth. Share with your kids times when it was difficult for you to tell the truth, but you decided it was more important to experience the consequences and keep your self-respect. Be sure this is honest sharing instead of a lecture.

19. Show appreciation. "Thank you for telling the truth. I know that was difficult. I admire the way you are willing to face the consequences, and I know you can handle them and learn from them."

20. Some situations won't be clear and some kids will deliberately lie to avoid punishment. You find yourself in a predicament because proof seems impossible yet you have a sense that this youngster is not telling the truth. When possible, don't choose that battleground. It's too sticky and you will usually have other clearer opportunities later. Kids that have a problem with lying, demonstrate it often. Choose the clearer battles and use those situations to discipline firmly.

21. Stop asking set-up questions that invite lying. A set-up question is one to which you already know the answer. "Did you clean your room?" Instead say, "I notice you didn't clean your room. Would you like to work on a plan for cleaning it?"

22. Stop believing the lies. If you have caught your youngster lying, and in retrospect realize that you were naïve in believing far-fetched stories and excuses, acknowledge your accountability in that and stop being so gullible. You may still desperately want to believe that your youngster isn't lying to you, but chances are, if his lips are moving, he's lying.

23. Stop trying to control kids. Many kids lie so they can find out who they are and do what they want to do. At the same time, they are trying to please their parents by making them think they are doing what they are supposed to do.

24. Talk about reality and truth and how they are different from fantasy, wishes, possibility, pretend, and make believe. Require that kids use cues to identify anything other than reality. Here are some ideas: "I think it happened this way" … "I think this is the answer" … "I'm not sure" … "Maybe" (possibility) … "I wish this were true" … "I'd like it if..." (wish) … "I'd like to tell you a story" … "I can imagine what it would be like to..." (fantasy)

25. Understand that lying behavior occurs in both extremes of the parenting continuum. If you're in a highly permissive environment, kids lie. If you're in a highly rigid and strict environment, kids lie. Moms and dads may wonder, "Why would a youngster lie in a permissive environment if you give him everything and let him do anything he wants to do?" Kids sometimes lie because they have been given too much freedom.

Kids can lie in a variety of ways, from tall tales to little white lies. When a youngster is caught in the act of lying frequently, as a parent you must use discipline to stop the unacceptable behavior of constant lying. Although you may immediately think to punish your youngster for telling lies, positive discipline can be used with natural consequences to teach your youngster about the importance of telling the truth and the disadvantages to frequent lying.

==> My Out-of-Control Child: Help for Parents with Oppositional Defiant Children


Anonymous said...

Hi, i just want to say hello to the community

Anonymous said...


I just finished reading your book "My Out Of Control Teen". It is an excellent book. Working on my wife to complete reading it, so we can discuss next steps to implement your recommendations. Plan to start reading it a second time so I can digest the ideas better and figure out ways I need to improve as a parent.

Thanks for writing such a valuable book for parents who need help. I am very grateful for the advice provided in your book.


Susan said...

Hi Mark,
I really appreciate your sage advice and your books also.
We our grandparents raising our sun home we adopted at the age of 2 and we need help dealing with sneaking, and meltdown behavior by our 11 year old 8th grader, diagnosed with Asperger's and a genius IQ.
We took away the Xbox for a week because of disrespectful shouting and name-calling a major meltdowns when he was asked to stop playing a video game. This happens every time when having to stop an electronic Activity video games or computers. and we give him 5 minute warnings to stop his game and transition to next activities.
I caught him sneaking/stealing my phone out of my bedroom and then trying to sneak it back into the bedroom. I asked him if he had taken my phone and he looked me in the eye and said "no" so the lying is rather disturbing also. I feel like I can't trust him now and I have to lock my room and guard my property. This is not the first time this has happened and when I catch him doing it, the explosions are awful!
He says if he asks, we'll say no,then he yells that everybody in the world hates him he has no life and now we've taken everything away from him. He has a very low self-esteem and is constantly putting himself down. The kids at school are even complaining about his negativity about himself. He does not take ownership for his behavior he minimizes, justifies, and rationalizes everything is the our fault.
He is in a private school and the kids in his class are 12 -- 14 year olds, he's brighter than most of them, academically, and trying so hard to fit in socially.
How do I teach him not to sneak and lie? if he would have asked to use my phone for 15 minutes, I would have said yes, but he does not believe me and then starts to blame the world and that everyone hates him and we're the reason for his unhappiness and that he has no life. These meltdowns are ugly and loud.
Interestingly, after about 15 minutes that he's been in his room, he comes out quite calm as if nothing has happened.
Is anybody else dealing with a similar situation? Advice?
I don't know if the consequences are appropriate or if they're just fueling the fire of this tween trying to fit in with the older kids.
Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Susan

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