Determine the Motive
Up to age 4 or so, children’s lies cannot really be viewed as true dishonesty. Their falsehoods are instead an attempt to revise the situation. For example, your child may know that grabbing a toy from a sibling was wrong, and therefore deny it. The child isn’t intentionally trying to trick anyone — except for himself — about what actually happened. These early lies are actually signs of maturity.
After age 4 or 5, however, children may lie in order to receive a reward, to avoid punishment, to avoid a parent’s anger, to gain an advantage, or to improve their own self-esteem. They may also lie to protect their own privacy, or that of a friend. Finding this motive can help you to have a sit-down discussion with your child about honesty and its importance. “Use it as an opportunity for learning what you want from them in terms of your values,” Haber says.