Why Kids Lie (and How You Can Encourage Honesty)
By Deborah Bohn
All kids lie—but what's normal and what's not? Learn how to handle dishonesty, curb fibbing, and teach your kids to tell the truth.
You expect your children to wet the bed, spill their milk, and fight with their siblings. It's all just part of growing up. But the first time your child looks up at you with that sweet face, those tender eyes, and tells you a big fat lie, it can be a real shock to the system.
While there's something about lying that really gets under the skin of most parents, realize that dishonesty in all of its forms—denial, cheating, boasting, and telling outrageous whoppers—is normal behavior that every kid tries at some point. By reacting appropriately and setting an impeccable moral example for your children, you can create a parent/child relationship built on trust.
Little Liars: Preschoolers and Kindergartners
It's no surprise that most kids begin telling fibs around age three. Preschoolers spend lots of time pretending, living in their own fantasy worlds for large stretches of the day, and their age coincides with negative consequences for poor behavior in the form of time outs and lost privileges. So avoiding punishment by blaming an invisible monster or simply pretending they weren't involved at all, despite the often overwhelming and sometimes hilarious evidence to the contrary, are typical little-kid forays into dishonesty.
Nationally renowned educator Dr. Michele Borba, EdD, author of several parenting books including Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing calls this behavior "wishful thinking" and encourages parents to remember that "a three-year-old's brain doesn't work the same way yours does."
Preschoolers are still trying to make sense of the world and are inundated with images of talking trains, magical princesses, and people with supernatural powers on TV and in books. While these youngsters know right from wrong and can understand the concept of truth and dishonesty, the line between reality and fantasy may still be fuzzy.
"The biggest reason why kids won't admit [a wrongdoing] is because they really wish someone else did," Dr. Borba explains. So rather than haranguing them about the lie, try asking, "Do you wish that had happened?" instead. When he comes clean, give your munchkin a big smile and a warm hug for telling the truth, then calmly help him make the situation right by cleaning up the mess or apologizing to his sister for that accidental-on-purpose pinch on the leg.