How to Respond When Kids Lie

“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” — William Shakespeare

It’s normal for kids to get creative with the truth. It’s part of growing up. 

You can help your child see the natural consequences of dishonesty — losing trust, hurting others, harming relationships, and feeling less in integrity — while maintaining a loving connection. 

Look beneath the lie.

Aside from littles (who don’t yet know the difference between what’s true and what they imagine is true), kids typically don’t lie for no reason. 

See if there is an unmet need at the root of the dishonesty. Ask yourself: What is the function of the lie? Fear of punishment? Saving face? Attention? 

Have empathy for the need, while still holding your child accountable.

Promote a culture of honesty.

You go first. Fess up when you’ve fibbed or said something misleading. Try to keep the tone light and conversational. This shows your child that they are not alone in learning to be honest.

Try this: Share a time you were dishonest when you were a child. Then ask your child if they want to share a time they were not honest. Both of you reflect on what you could have done differently. 

Be curious rather than accusing.

It’s important to call it out when you believe your child is being dishonest, but try not to set a tone of cornering or interrogating them.  

Ask: “Are you sure that’s what happened?” or say, “You are usually honest with me, but what you’re saying doesn’t seem true. What am I missing?”

Never label your child a liar.

This harms your relationship and your child gets the message that they are bad, rather than having simply made a mistake.

Say, “I love you no matter what, and I’m here to help you even when you make a mistake.”  

Prioritize honesty yourself.

If your kids see that you are honest even when it’s hard, they will pattern their behavior in the same way. When you’re tempted to be dishonest, share your thinking and show how you move toward honesty.

For example: “Ugh, I kind of want to say I’m sick so I don’t have to do this work meeting, but I committed and I’m not sick, so I’m going to do it.”

Don’t make a lie trap.

If you know your child has been dishonest, just be up front rather than putting them in a situation where they are tempted to lie.

For example: “I see you didn’t turn in your homework this week. Let’s make a plan to get that done. Would tomorrow morning work?”

Celebrate honesty.

It often takes courage to be honest, either when we’re telling a difficult truth or admitting to being dishonest. When your child admits to a lie, it’s important to show the harm but also important to acknowledge the courage it took to be honest.

Say: “Being honest showed bravery. Thank you for telling the truth even when it was hard.” or “I’m so glad you told me the truth. Let’s work together to make things right.”

Be kind.

Remind your kids that saying every thought and opinion they have is not the same as being honest. Do they need to tell the librarian she has awful breath or say they hate the birthday gifts they got? Probably not. And a general rule, making comments about someone else’s physical appearance does not fall under the category of honesty.

Ask: Is it honest and kind? (Sometimes being kind means saying a difficult truth.)