Faith,  Mom Life

What to do When Your Child Lies?

Lying is such a tricky topic. We want our children to understand how important it is to tell the truth, we don’t want to be lied to, and we want to create a space where our children feel comfortable enough to be honest. But a lot of times we as parents do things that create an environment for lying to flourish. We threaten punishments if they don’t tell the truth, then also punish them when they do tell the truth. We accuse when we didn’t see what happened. And all these things accomplish is to train children that they need to get better at hiding. And they need to get sneakier with their actions. And on and on.

**This post may contain affiliate links so I earn a commission. Please read my disclosure for more info.**

Reasons Children Lie

There are many reasons why children lie. And recognizing this is important. Many times our knee-jerk reaction as parents is to think that all lies are just a child’s attempt at avoiding punishment, and as children get older, this may be the case. But there are so many more nuances than just the idea of lying as sin. Here are some of the most common reasons a child might lie.

  1. Children lie because they don’t understand the distinction between facts and fiction. This is usually noticeable with younger children, but as some children develop at different stages, can persist into the elementary years.
  2. Children lie because they don’t want to disappoint you. Maybe when they were playing they broke something you like and they are afraid you’ll be disappointed in them. Maybe your older child did something that you warned them not to, and they don’t want to disappoint you.
  3. Children lie because they are trying to assert some independence. This is sometimes true in teens and older kids who want to start feeling independent of their parents.
  4. Children lie to avoid punishment. If your household uses punishment for lying, and for the thing they did that led to the lie, then your children are very likely to lie.
  5. Children lie because we as parents set them up to lie. Let me give an example. You just watched your child play rough in the living room and a picture fell off the wall and broke. You ask them “did you knock this off the wall?” Even though you literally just saw them do it. You just set them up to lie.

Changing the Narrative Around Lying

What if we completely changed how we approached lying in the first place? What if we stopped punishments for lying (or “discipline” – as a code word for punishment) altogether? What do you think would happen?

I know many of you are probably thinking that I am ridiculous for even suggesting such a thing. That kids would run crazy and rule the roost. It would be a Lord of the Flies environment, etc. But what if that’s not what happens? What if instead, it created a safe atmosphere where the truth easily flowed? Where your child’s need for connection, safety, and security were all met?

Before I even dove into the world of gentle parenting, I remember a situation happened with my oldest. He was around 7 or 8 at the time. Now, at the time, I was still in the mindset of punitive parenting. Time outs, taking things away, and the occasional spank were all options depending on the severity of the issue. They were always followed up with talks and love and hugs, but let’s be real, they were all punishments.

But, I really wanted and desired to have my son tell me the truth about something that had happened between him and his sister. I couldn’t quite understand why she was upset, other than “Bubba did it”. I needed him to tell me the story of what happened. But in that moment, the Holy Spirit impressed on me NOT to punish him no matter what. You might know what I’m talking about. “Lying gets you in trouble for two things, the lie and the thing you lied about.” That was my general mindset around lying up until that moment. I felt the Lord stirring in my heart that getting to the truth was more important than punishing for the lie.

I remember giving him a few chances at first. And when the Lord impressed on my heart not to punish AT ALL, I had to convince my son that no matter what he did, he would not be punished and that it was VERY important to tell the truth of what happened. I left him alone for a bit, and he finally mustered up the courage to tell me. I think it ended up being that he pushed her or pulled her hair or something and said something mean to his sister. But something shifted in the atmosphere that day.

I determined in my heart that I would never ever punish or give consequences for lies. We talk about the importance of telling the truth and how it helps build trust. It makes it so that our word will never be brought into question.

But that day was profound. Because I learned that you don’t need to punish for your children to learn how to do the right thing. And that lesson has served us well throughout the years. I never tell my kids that I am disappointed in them. I thank them for telling me the truth, and we move forward.

This past year, I bought a new car and we came out of the mall one day and my brand new car had a scratch in the coating along the top of the trunk. I was so mad. I thought some random stranger just came along and did it for funsies because it was a new car. My oldest, who was 12 at the time, piped up about a minute into my frustrated rant about rude people, and said, “I did it with my finger.” I was like, “What? No way, this is way too deep to do that with.” And he told me, it was him and that he was running his nail across the top and the coating came off.

My son VOLUNTEERED the truth. 4-5 years after we decided to never punish for lies, and we encouraged and celebrated the truth, my son, knowing full well how upset I was about it, volunteered the truth that he did it. He had full confidence that I would not turn my anger on him, that I would not be disappointed in him, that I would not shame him, and that whatever it was, we would try and fix it together.

That, mamas, is the power of going punishment free around lying. It didn’t happen overnight. It took years of mindset shifts, hard conversations, trust building, love, tears, and repentance on my part to get there. The solution? Buy a little kit and show him how to patch the scratch. Not punishment needed.

How to Encourage Your Children to Be Honest

  1. Model it for them. You know those little white lies you want to tell? Stop. Be honest with them and around them. Don’t lie.
  2. Don’t give them an opportunity to lie. Use statements like “I noticed.” “I noticed you knocked over the plant when you were playing outside. Do you need me to help you clean it up?” “I noticed that your homework was still sitting on the counter after you left for school. Do you need my help getting it done so that you can turn it in?”
  3. Don’t accuse them. Just because we know something happened mamas, doesn’t mean we know everything that happened. Instead of accusing, get curious. Ask questions to genuinely get to the bottom of a situation especially if you didn’t see or hear what happened directly.
  4. Stop punishing them. This one is hard, and I know it won’t happen in a day. But look for ways to remove punishment from the picture. Do they get a time out if they lie? Instead, encourage the truth. Tell them they won’t get in trouble, but it’s important for you to know what happened. And then, do not shame, punish or otherwise make them feel bad about what they did.