From little white lies to tall tales, here’s what to do when your child lies to you.


It can be a disheartening discovery when parents realise that their child has told a lie.

At first, Jessica Lee, a stay-at-home mum to Joshua, 3, laughed it off when her son told his preschool teacher that mummy was a doctor. “We thought it was funny at first, then I got a bit unsettled. Why would he tell her something that was not true? Did he not know the difference between his imagination and reality? Did he secretly want me to be a doctor?”

Another mother, Chia Soo Ying, mum to Marc, 6, and Stephanie, 9, worries about her kids’ lying. “They sometimes lie when they haven’t finished their homework, or when they say that daddy has given permission to buy something and he hasn’t. I get upset because I’ve always stressed the importance of honesty in our family.”

Whatever age they are, children tell untruths for a variety of reasons, notes Karin Goh, a child and adolescent psychologist at The Center for Psychology.

She notes, “They may lie to protect their parents’ emotions, play out fantasies, avoid responsibilities, protect their own privacy or demand attention. And parents feel a sense of betrayal, confusion and frustration when children lie.”

“They may lie to protect their parents’ emotions, play out fantasies, avoid responsibilities, protect their own privacy or demand attention.”

The problem is that when a child lies, the trust is broken and your relationship may suffer. Says Goh, “Rather than take lies personally, parents can take the time and openly discuss the value of being truthful. You may also discuss alternatives to lying.”

Toddlers and younger children
Younger children start to fib at about the age of 3 ― when they realise that they can say things that aren’t true, without you finding out. It might start with a simple “fantasy”, something that your little one is dreaming up, just for kicks. In the case of Joshua, Lee was worried that reprimanding him for saying she was a doctor would crush his creativity. “I want to encourage his imagination, but I want him to know what’s right and what’s not.”

In fact, lying may not be such a bad thing. A study by the Institute of Child Study at the University of Toronto actually says that whether a child lies can determine his future success, since skills like quick thinking and the ability to use information to your own advantage demonstrate a highly functioning brain.


How to respond if your young child tells a lie:

1. Respond appropriately When you think your child might be telling a fantasy, or stretching the truth, use words like “Wow, was that a great story or what?”.

2. Read stories about honesty Your little one might not quite understand that lies have consequences. Read him a story that highlights the importance of being honest, such as The Boy who Cried Wolf, The Emperor’s New Clothes or Pinocchio.

3. Don’t label Calling your child a liar will affect his self-esteem negatively and might even lead to more lying.

4. Praise Your child might tell “tall tales” because he wants your attention. To boost his self-esteem and self-worth, get down to his eye level to show that you are paying attention to him. Praising him gives him the respect he deserves.

Older children

An older child can lie without getting caught as his vocabulary is wider, plus he has a better understanding of people. There’re also more reasons to lie, for instance, not wanting to anger you over his grades, or even evading doing chores or homework. The older child can understand the difference between what’s true and what’s not, as well as consequences of his lying.

However, be mindful that the older child is also less likely to spill details about his life that he once did freely. This is normal and a sign of his growing maturity. Your relationship was benefit when you acknowledge that your child is growing up and accept his desire for privacy.

The older child is also less likely to spill details about his life that he once did freely.

How to manage an older child who lies:

1. Set an example The best way to send a message of the importance of being truthful is to model this desired behaviour. So, if you say you have a healthy breakfast, you should actually do it.

2. Don’t overreact over a misdeed A big reason kids lie is to avoid punishment. So, if junior assumes you are going to throw a big fit over him failing his maths test or not completing his homework, he’s naturally going to try to hide it from you.

3. Set rules and consequences Spell out how his lying makes you feel (hurt? disappointed?) and make it a rule that if he is caught lying, there will be consequences ― for instance, you will withhold a privilege, such as playing an e-game. Make sure you follow through on that vow.

4. Give the benefit of the doubt Let your child know that you’d love to trust him and that you will give him the benefit of the doubt. However, when he tells an untruth, you will remove this benefit, since it is a privilege, and it will be difficult to earn it again.

Photos: iStock


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