What To Do When Your Child Lies

Teen hiding

When your child lies to you it feels crummy, doesn’t it? Often times parents feel they need to ‘fix’ their child’s lying by calling them out on it and trying to reason with them. But this often makes the situation worse. Your child argues back and pretty soon you’re in a full blown argument. So how can you help when your child lies?  

First, it is often wise to avoid calling your child out on their lie. A child’s lies serve an important purpose, otherwise they would not be lying. To get down to the bottom of why your child lies, adopt a curious, non-judgmental attitude and then try to meet the child’s underlying needs.

For instance, a child may lie to seem more interesting. In this case, their ‘why’ may be a belief that they are unloveable/unlikeable as they are. If this is the situation, you can think about what you can do to show your child that they are lovable and likable as they are. Generally, with this kind of approach, the child’s lying at least decreases.

When there is a safety concern or when someone else may be greatly impacted by the lie and you need to confront your child about it, try to do so with empathy and compassion. Imagine what your child may be feeling in the moment. Before you start to talk, see if you can feel compassion in your heart for them. Notice if you have a desire to relieve their suffering and feel what that feels like. Starting the conversation from that felt sense of compassion will likely help your child feel more comfortable opening up.

When a child or teen is open about lying, you may be able to have a very frank, nonjudgmental conversation with them. You can ask them how the lie helped them. Did it truly work to their advantage? Did it work better than the truth? You can share the idea that lies tend to serve a purpose and have a discussion about it. Above all, it is important that you approach the conversation with a genuine wish to understand.

Sometimes children who lie desperately want help getting out of the lie. This happens frequently with children who tend to be impulsive. They feel buried by their lie and can’t see their way out. In this situation, helping your child find the words to express their feelings and needs can be quite helpful. 

As parents, try to reduce opportunities for lying as much as possible. For example, don’t ask your child if he brushed his teeth when you know they haven’t. When you ask your child if they did something when you know with 100% certainty they haven’t, you enter into your own realm of deceit by asking them rather than being transparent. This is a set up for a ‘parent pleaser’ who is impulsive.  

A child’s credibility gets damaged with others when they lie a lot and that can be really hard on the ego. If you’re not sure your child is lying (or even if you know that they are lying), try to give their story as little attention as possible so that you don’t unintentionally reinforce their behavior. Try to find and validate other things they say that you know are true. This will help reinforce the idea that who they are without the lies is attention-worthy. 

At Intuition Wellness Center, we specialize in health and wellness services for children, young adults, and their families. If you think you would like some extra support, we’re here for you.

-Written by Dr. Brandy Baker, Psy.D. and Debby Urken, LCSW

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