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Last Updated: September 24, 2020

Are you confused as to why children lie? Do you have a feeling your child too, is actually dishonest? And anyway, should this behavior concern you as a parent?

Such are questions that trouble every parent coping with a child who has just gone past the third birthday and is a compulsive liar!

Here’s the thing, children come up with all sorts of flimsy, but very interesting lies just to stay out of trouble. They begin to tell soft lies at around 3 years and will fine-tune the skill at 7 when they tell carefully planned lies. This behavior will persist through teen years until they become adults.

Lying becomes a real habit during adulthood, and this explains why we lie as parents. We lie a lot, even to our own kids, and it’s funny we expect them to be any different!

Let’s set one record straight before we get ahead of ourselves. Lying is bad most of the time but maybe, not always. Sometimes lying is ‘good’ when told for good reasons, say prosocial lies, but lying is bad if told for personal gain – antisocial lies. The good lies are called white lies and the bad ones, black lies. Interesting choice of words though.

Now, back to the main question, why do children lie? But before that, what is lying anyway?

In brief, lying defines a situation where one person says deliberate falsehood with the intention of deceiving another. We lie when we say falsehood to peers, or when children tell parents falsehood on what they have done, or not.

Below are the reasons why children lie:


1. Children lie because parents want them to!

Well, come to think of it, when we accuse kids of lying, we always assume they are lying, which is not always the case. We actually don’t listen to them when they try to explain themselves, simply because we have made up our minds. We, therefore, pressurize them to accept what they have not done. We promise not to spank them if they tell the truth we want to hear. They more than likely will take the cue, accept what they have not done, and escape the punishment.

It is also interesting when we offer incentives in order to get to the truth out of them. I am sure you have heard siblings argue over who actually did what when incentives are put on the table. It is only then that we find out who actually lied, and how wrong we were to judge one child against the other!

How about you convincing them to like a clip from a 20th Century movie because it still makes your ribs crack? Seriously, your 21st Century kid does not see the fun in a 20th Century movie. Still, you cajole them up until they lie that they do!

Well, the list is endless, and the little fellows will continue dancing to your tunes to please you. It is no wonder they become liars early on in life.


2. Children lie because parents lie!

Yes, this begins when we ask kids to tell a visitor at the door we are not at home when actually we are. We also ask them to tell the neighbor the gift she sent for Mary’s birthday was amazing when actually everyone at home thought it was pathetic.

How about your child coming home with an awful drawing, and you have to laud him with praises because you want to keep his spirit up? Ok, let’s not forget the lies about Santa coming home on Christmas eve to drop a present. Then there is the Tooth fairy tale from multiple traditions which tells of a mouse visiting with a gift every time the child extracts a primary tooth!

It happens all the time and it is a question of parents telling lies without evaluating the consequences. We probably do it because we want to offer encouragement, and preserve the child’s sense of security. Children embrace these lies and over time discover they are actually lies. Soon enough, they too begin using them.


3. Children lie to get what they want

Children are hungry for attention, crave their favorite cookies and toys, and want to be near their beloved nanny and uncle. They will lie in order to have an hour or two on the game console, laptop, or smartphone. They will want everything that makes their lives worth living because they live in a material universe. At the end of the day, anything that justifies their needs – lies included, will work just fine.

They never understand that a lie told today will come to haunt them tomorrow or next week because they do not have the perception that facts are fixed. In fact, the distinction between fantasy and fact is based on when a lie gets them what they want. As long as a lie helps them get their favorite cookie, then to hell with the truth.

Children will also lie to

Beware though of negatives that come with some of the lies such as addiction to technology devices, apathy, and bullying.


4. Children lie for cognitive development

Children also lie because they are discovering themselves and new things in life. Throughout the 3rd through to the 7th year, they are at work trying to develop social and cognitive skills, and as ludicrous as it sounds, they use lying as a yardstick to measure their progress. Starting early on, they are learning to develop a knowledge base, understand beliefs, and find out what is socially right or wrong.

According to Michael Lewis, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School,

Lying is a basic process that gets us into imagination and into play and into creativity

Children will lie to discover and try out many new things. For example, they will lie to

  • build confidence
  • excel in class
  • discover new ideas
  • find out how smart they are

By lying they learn how it feels to lie and how people respond to lies!  


5. Kids lie to evade focus

If you have been in a situation where your child is suffering from depression, anxiety, and ill health, you will agree with me your child will lie every now and then to make you feel better. They are uncomfortable and feel under unnecessary pressure when they have to explain how they feel every now and then. Sometimes, children just want to be left alone. This is the reason not to put your children under pressure.


Have your child speak the truth

We will probably agree that lying is not the best of traits we want our children to develop, especially when it interferes with productivity and family values.

Here are some of the things parents and children can do:

  • Parents should cut down on their own lies
  • Children should be made aware that lying is not okay
  • Parents and children should mend the lies by fixing them mentally and physically
  • The Bible and other religious books condemn lying as evil
  • The consequences of lying in real-life are serious

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