Parenting In Focus: Lies and truth

You have probably read that lying is a sign of intellectual growth in your children. It is hardly something most parents are delighted to hear. But we do know that most children will lie from time to time.

Some of the very qualities we value in young children are the same skills they need to learn to be effective liars; skills such as the ability to plan ahead, control her emotions and take another person’s point of view are also part of lying. Actually, lying appears to be a good measure of a child’s social development.

Having said these things, it does not mean parents should ignore lies from their children. In fact, parents should think of a child’s lie as the best solution the child can think of for the problem she is facing.

It is not difficult to discover your child’s lies, but sometimes it is difficult to find the underlying issues and help your child learn more appropriate responses. So what should a parent do?

First, let your child know that you take lying seriously. Let her also know that the truth is something you strongly believe in. Help her understand the negative consequences of lying that make sense to her. Let her know that lying upsets you. If she is a bit older, you can remind her of how angry she gets when her playmates do not follow the rules when they play with her.

Then, think of yourself as a teacher, not as a police officer. The important lesson is to teach, not to punish. Keep your attention on the behavior that caused the lie.

Tell her you understand how much she must have liked that doll to take it from her friend’s house but remind her that her friend also really likes her doll.

Give her suggestions for other ways she might have handled it such as to ask if she could borrow the doll or trade dolls for a day or two. Talk about how she can respond to her friend about taking the doll.

Even if she is lying about something smaller, you need to work with your child about what she has done and why. Perhaps you have told she cannot have one of the brownies you made for dinner and you find she has taken a couple of them. Even this minor offense should not be ignored.

Lying is normal behavior that should not be ignored or it will have a significant influence on how much she lies in the future. Talk about the behavior behind what she did.

Encourage her to talk to you when she wants something that much. But again, have some consequence. Maybe she has to clean up the mess she left in the kitchen. Maybe she does not get dessert for dinner. Maybe she has to write an apology for doing this. Just make sure there is some consequence and that you have talked together about what she has done.

You are not only dealing with lying, you are dealing with your child growing up and doing the right thing. You are trying to teach your child how to do things correctly and how to talk over a problem.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation. For more information, email to or call 360-681-2250.