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Your Kid’s a Liar

In today’s political climate, it seems everyone lies. They even have a website to show just how much each presidential candidate actually lies. So, you are probably wondering why people lie and if there is ever a good time to lie? The answer is a little more complicated than you might think. See, none of us are perfect. We cannot expect our children to be, either. If you want your child to be more like Hillary, Barack, and Bernie, and less like Trump, Pence, and Ryan… keep reading.

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire

First let me say,  ALL kids lie. But everyone lies for different reasons. Yes, there are reasons people lie and if we can figure out the WHY, we can usually nip it in the bud. Some children with ADHD, ODD, and other behavioral disorders lie as a symptom of their disorder. That is not to excuse the behavior, it is just a reality. Their tendency to make mistakes has them thinking they need to cover it up — kids with these issues are especially prone to fibbing. How should you respond when you catch your children in a lie? The most important thing you can do as their parent is to be proactive, not reactive. I’ll expound on this more later. Use the tips below to help your child recognize the importance of telling the truth, and nothing but the truth.

Lying, a mental health symptom?

The impulse to tell lies does not make your kiddo a bad person, nor is it evidence of a character flaw. They are not inherently bad, so don’t start picturing their future jail cell. It can be a byproduct of ADHD, or ODD, or Bipolar Disorder. But as with other symptoms of these disorders, it usually improves with medication. But even with pharmacotherapy, your kid may need some extra coaching to understand the importance of telling the truth.

Make Consequences Clear & Consistent

Some kids tell lies out of feelings of insecurity, concocting fanciful stories in an effort to make themselves seem cooler to other kids. If this is your kid’s reasoning, punishing them could be counterproductive. Instead, make sure they understand what will happen if they get caught in a lie. The downside of telling a lie — even a really small one — may be obvious to us, but kids need to be reminded that lying usually causes more problems than it eliminates.

Teach the 1-2-3 Method

If your kid suffers from any of the disorders we mentioned earlier, they may be prone to blurting out answers to questions. Because they have not thought out the question, the “answer” could range from semi-true to liar-liar-pants-on-fire. Teach them they do not need to be the first one to answer and the answer does not have to be instant. Have them think about the question as they count to 3, “1, one thousand, 2, one thousand, 3, one thousand.” If they come up with the correct, truthful answer, they may answer the question. This is ensuring your kid knows that answering truthfully and accurately is more important than a timely response. 

Be Proactive, not Reactive

If your child says something you know to be untrue, stay calm. Reacting angrily, or with obvious dismay, or disgust, will only make your child feel the need to tell additional lies to defuse the situation. This is actually a survival technique. They fear they are in danger (not that you have beaten them but that they are in trouble) and want to get out as quickly as possible. Be proactive. Give them a free get-out-of-jail card by allowing them another chance to come clean without repercussion.


Give your kid the opportunity to reconsider their answer. Allow them one free get-out-of-jail card with another chance to come clean without consequences. “I’m not sure that’s exactly how things went. Do you want to try again? You get 1 free do-over…” This teaches children to 2nd-guess a misleading answer.

Honesty is Always the Best Policy

You will notice that children often lie to cover up mistakes, or misbehavior. This can be tempting to hand down a bunch of consequences. But working towards increasing positive behavior, studies show, is more reinforcing. Therefore, “catch them being good” and reward them for their honesty. This will make it more desirable to tell the truth, thereby decreasing dishonesty.

Teach Acceptable Lies

Explain the socially appropriate use of very small lies to prevent undue harm to others. For example, if they received a gift they did not like from someone in their class. Ask which response they would most likely give:

A. “Aww man.”
B. “I don’t like that kind of toy.”
C. “Thank you for the thoughtful gift.”

If your child (naturally) picks C, give them a high five! Be sure to explain why that was the correct choice for the situation. If they answer with A or B, explain how the friend’s feelings might be hurt. Furthermore, that it is not harmful to lie to save someone’s feelings in certain social situations. Emphasizing that this is the only acceptable exception.

Let’s Review, when your kid lies:

  1. Stay cool
    -Understandably, it’s hard to stay calm when it seems so easy for your kid to lie. Especially, right to your face!! Rather than taking it personally, remember their behavior is about them, not you! If you constantly lecture, or lose your cool, your child will not feel safe to tell the truth. Recall how their survival instinct kicks in.
  2. Get to the Root of the Problem
    -Lying isn’t the real issue, we all lie for a reason. We may not agree with their reason but we have to understand it made sense to them. Kids with behavioral disorders tend to lie to cover up what they view as shortcomings. They usually have an unwavering desire to be normal. If we can make them feel normal about some of their faults, they will be more honest with us. Additionally, if we can improve their impulse control, they will not feel the “need” to lie.
  3. Level with Them 
    -Say, “Jackson, I know you fibbed because you made a mistake and wanted to cover it up. You might have felt like you were out of control, so you panicked and made up a tall tale. I’m not angry with you – I want to help. Just so you know, your lying does not make me love, or like you any less, but it does mean I will have a hard time trusting you. I’d like to give you a chance to earn it back. But this is a one-time deal.”
  4. Come up with a Safe Word
    -We already talked about how giving a consequence for every lie won’t change things in the long run. Kids do not always know how we are going to respond when they tell us of their errors. If you remain calm and open no matter what your kid says to you, they will likely tell you everything. Even things you probably could have lived your whole life without knowing. LOL. So, in my house we say “Sesame” to signal someone is about to open up and we might not like what comes out.
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