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What To Do If A Child Lies: A Guide for Parents

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Feb 16, 2023

What To Do If A Child Lies: A Guide for Parents

When children say their first word, parents start to look forward to days filled with stories upon stories about their rapidly expanding world. Though make-believe and imagination is a vital part of a child’s cognitive development, what should parents do if their child starts to give false information? Here’s what to do if your child lies.

The Emergence of Lying in Children

You must be wondering: when do kids start telling lies?

To date, there are still very few studies focused on children and lies. Yet, one report mentioned that starting at 42 months old, kids become increasingly capable of telling lies in various social scenarios.

The same report also explained an interesting study that proved that very young children could lie, but most cannot maintain the lie.

what to do if a child lies

In the study, the researchers invited 65 participants aged 2 to 3. The kids were asked not to peek at the toys when the investigators were not looking. About 80% of the children caved in and peered at the toys. When asked later if they peeked, most 2-year-olds confessed, but the older participants denied and thus told a lie.

When the researchers pressed follow-up questions, kids who denied peeking at the toys couldn’t hold their lie and instead pretended to not know about the toys.

How to Deal with a Child that Lies

Don’t get angry immediately

In case you catch your little one telling a lie, the first tip is not to get mad right away. Experts say parents should expect that kids will lie at some point and see these as opportunities to “build skills.”

When you catch them lying, try to find out what made them think that lying is their only option. From there, you can check if they need support developing specific skills (social, communication, cognitive, or problem-solving).

Case in point: a child who lies about their grades could indicate that they feel embarrassed.  Do they need academic help? Are they worried that you’ll get angry?

If you avoid getting mad, you can turn this situation into an opportunity to build your child’s trust in you.

Understand the reason for the lie

The next thing to do if a child lies is to understand why he or she did it. And to do that, you need to consider factors such as their age, the situation, and how frequently they lie.

Experts say kids lie because they:

  • Don’t want to get into trouble; hence they are “covering up.”
  • Want to make their story more exciting.
  • Still can’t distinguish between what’s real and fantasy (common in very young children).
  • Want to persuade you to give them something they want (“At home, mommy gives me two cookies.”)
  • Make themselves look better.
  • Want to get attention.
  • Don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
  • Are curious about how you’ll respond.

Respond appropriately and with facts

After knowing the reason why a child lies, experts say you need to respond appropriately.

For instance, toddlers who lie are not trying to be deceitful. They may just see that you’re upset and want to make things better, so they don’t tell the truth.

When you catch them red-handed, remember to respond with facts.

If you believe their imagination is running wild, help them distinguish between fantasy and reality.

Important: Please avoid labels like “liar” as this may affect how children will view themselves in the future.

Emphasize that they are secure and loved

Deal with an older child that lies in such a way that they know they are secure and loved. One way to do this is to focus on communication and consequences rather than punishment.

Help them understand that the truth is important and lying is not okay. You can use relatable scenarios for this, such as: if daddy lied to mommy, I’d feel hurt, or if you didn’t tell me what’s wrong, I wouldn’t know how to help you.

Instead of punishing, encourage them to think of a more acceptable solution and then give them an appropriate consequence for lying.

Here’s an example:

If your little one lied about cleaning their room because they want to play instead, you could tell them, you can ask for my help; that way, you’ll finish sooner. But don’t forget to emphasize that lying is not okay, so as a consequence, they’ll have to help you wash the dishes.

Review your behavior

And finally, if a child lies, review the behavior of your family at home.

Remember that kids pick on what adults do. If they witnessed you lying about not going to work because there are many things to do that day, it would send a message that it’s okay to lie for convenience.

Ultimately, parents are a child’s greatest role models. So leading by example is one of the best ways to discourage lying and encourage truth-telling as a child grows up.

Learn more about Parenting a Toddler and Preschooler here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Jezreel Esguerra, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Feb 16, 2023

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