How to Stop Kids from Lying: 7 Solutions

Stopping kids from lying would be like stopping water from being wet, but you can start to build some truth-telling habits with these 7 tips.

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By Jae Curtis

When your toddler tells a little white lie, such as “The cat ate my food,” it's almost cute. After all, you know that your little one isn't lying maliciously. But when it's your older kid who starts telling tall tales, you might be a little concerned—and with good reason. Older kids should understand the moral repercussions of lying, so it's an issue you'll want to address ASAP. If you gently let your child know the jig is up and encourage truth-telling, lying won’t become a major issue in your home.

Find Out Why

Before you get angry with your child for lying, it's beneficial to first find out why he felt the need to fudge the truth—it's the real issue at hand. Kids lie for a number of reasons, but it usually boils down to avoiding consequences. If your child is telling tall tales about grades at school or how much time he spent on the computer last night, he's probably trying to avoid getting in trouble. It pays to address the “why” behind the lie before you punish for not telling the truth.

Call His Bluff

"Parents must confront their child or teen when lied to, or if their kid lies to someone else," urges Dr. Fran Walfish, a California-based child psychotherapist. "Accountability is the most important aspect of the act of lying. In other words, kids must own up to their actions and behaviors in order for truth-telling to be their norm."

Still, there are ways to call your kid's bluff without embarrassing him. Instead, do it gently and give him a chance to come clean. Try, "I know you said you didn't have any homework, but is there a chance you could have forgotten about your math assignment?" Taking a gentle approach lets your child know you're not trying to "catch him in the act" but you are giving him a chance to fess up.

Emphasize Honesty

When and if your child does come clean, make sure you place the emphasis for the deed on the honesty, not the behavior. Of course it makes you mad when your child doesn’t empty the dishwasher, but encouraging honesty means taking one for the team and focusing on the positive instead. Say, "I'm disappointed that you didn't do what you were asked, but I appreciate you being honest with me. Thanks."

Check Your Reaction

Have a tendency to overreact to bad behavior? Your dramatics may be encouraging your child to tell a lie. He doesn't want the wrath of Mom when she finds out that he flunked his science test, so he'll lie—and continue lying—as long as that threat remains. "If you react with anger or rage, your child's lying will increase and go underground," Walfish warns. "Your goal is to have open, honest communication." Check yourself and tone down your reaction so your child isn't scared to tell the truth.

Illustrate the Consequences

Kids can't always understand the consequences of dishonesty. Instead, it's a knee-jerk reaction to prevent unpleasantness, so it's gratifying in the moment. It's important that your child really understands where lying gets him. Once he comes clean, lead him through the chain reaction that occurs with the lie. For example, explain that lying about grades means you can't help him out. If he tells you when he's struggling, you could hire a tutor or speak with his teacher about extra credit, but as long as he conceals the truth, he's on his own. This should help him understand that lying is more than just a one-time thing.

Don't Label

Even if your child is prone to fudging the truth, it's important that you don't label him a "liar." That label can be seriously damaging, especially as your child learns to live up to his new identifier. Instead, let him know that while lying isn't cool, it doesn’t define him. Avoid saying things like "I can't trust you," which could do long-term damage to your parent-child relationship. Instead, try "I understand why you didn't want to tell the truth, but when you lie, it hurts my feelings. Can you try and be more truthful in the future?"

Model Honesty

Hey, everyone does it: a little lie here, a miscommunication there. But if you lie, don't expect your child to take you seriously when it comes to the truth. Even small lies like, "The check's in the mail" can set a bad example for your child—and his developing moral compass. Show him that honesty is the best policy in your actions and he may take your words to heart.

While lying can definitely throw a wrench into your relationship, it doesn't need to do long-term damage. Communication is key, so talking to your child about his tendency to embellish as soon as it happens can help him learn that it's always better to tell the truth.

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