How to curb lying

by Heligirl on October 8, 2012

in Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles

What do you do when your child starts lying? For me the first instinct was to get really mad. But I had to cool myself off and give it a good long think. I was a constant liar when I was a child. It wasn’t until I reached my adult years that I learned from observation then trial and error that fessing up followed by taking steps to rectify a situation were by far more successful than any lie.

So why did I lie?

I lied because punishment was a big thing in our house. If you did something wrong, you were spanked or put on restriction. Lying was self-preservation. I can’t say I was particularly good at it, but it wasn’t long before it was a reflex. You just denied responsibility before even thinking about it.

I don’t want my kids to be that way. I want to instill a respect for honesty, integrity and responsibility. So how do you do this?

The quick answer is to take each lie as a learning opportunity.

According to Jane Nelsen in her Positive Discipline book series, we need to take into account a child’s age and maturity. Young kids really can’t distinguish between reality and fantasy. Others get the hang of consequences and don’t want to suffer them, even though they still can’t control impulsive behavior that got them in trouble in the first place. Others just don’t want to disappoint or suffer the consequences, and even though they know better, they lie as self-preservation.

When you put these together, it requires us as parents (and caregivers) to slow down and look at the individual child.

For me, it started with the kids locking me out of the house. It took some banging on the door to get them to let me in, but what upset me the most is we’d had lots of conversations about locking doors. I’d shut the screen door. They closed the main door and locked it while I watered the plants. Not cool.

When I asked who locked it, they both blamed the other. With them being 3 and 5, I know the concept of lying isn’t completely understood either from a devious point of view or a moral one, but it was time to introduce it. I asked for an honest answer so we could talk about it.


I sent them both to bed early then went to see each one separately.

Mr. Man looked me right in the eyes, crying, and told me his sister did it. He didn’t lock the door. He snuggled with me as we sang our songs and he had his story.

Sweetness on the other hand had gone to bed quietly (not her M.O. in the least). When I went in to see her, she didn’t look me in the eye. I had my answer.

Using the advice from Nelsen I kept a calm, warm voice and simply discussed how if I’m locked out, I can’t help them if they’re in trouble. I reminded her that we don’t lock doors in our house unless we’re all inside. I asked again who locked the door. She blamed her brother, but didn’t look at me. I asked her why she lied. It took a little prompting but she admitted she didn’t want to get in trouble.

I sat her down and lovingly explained that I understood she did something she later regretted so she said her brother did it. I told her it was much better to tell the truth, then tell me she’s sorry. Sometimes we do things we later regret. The important thing is to be honest then do what we can to make up for it. In this case, simply telling me she did it, then saying she was sorry and give a hug. In return, I promise to be understanding.

The next day Mr. Man started crying when he was alone with her. When I walked in and asked what happened, Mr. Man said Sweetness pushed her. I asked Sweetness what happened.

“I don’t know.”

I reminded her about telling the truth then asked what happened.

“I pushed him.”

I forced myself to be calm, smiling to keep my voice gentle. “Thank you for telling the truth. How can you make it better?”

“Sorry,” she says to her brother.

One small success.

My mom tip today is to look at how you talk to your little ones and if you do catch them in a legitimate lie, or the beginnings of lying, slow down and take the time to teach (both in words and actions) that the truth is always better.

Do you have  a lying story? How did you approach this with your little one?

Previous post:

Next post: