What’s in a Lie?

February 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm (Positive Discipline)

I was having a conversation with another mom about when kids lie about certain things.  She was saying that her daughter was hitting people and throwing things, and then later, when she asked her daughter, “did you do these things?” she said, “No”.  A child denying they did something can be so frustrating because we as parents know that we love our kids unconditionally, and it surprises us when they lie. It’s hard because we want them to know that we will love them no matter what, and we just want them to tell us the truth! 🙂

But for such young children (many children go through a lying phase beginning around age 3-4), lying is not a purposefully devious act…they genuinely don’t want to disappoint us, and in their minds their way of “not disappointing us” is by telling us that something didn’t happen.

One thing that helps is to simply not provide the opportunity to lie…instead of asking a child if she was hitting and throwing, we can say something like, “I heard you were hitting and throwing.  Were you having a hard time?” and listen to her feelings and work on a plan together for next time when she’s having emotional difficulties.

It also helps to be direct & say, “Hm, that doesn’t sound like the truth. You know, sometimes people don’t tell the truth when they feel scared. And I certainly don’t mean to make you feel scared! Why don’t we take a break and maybe later you’d like to share with me what’s going on for you when you’re at your friend’s house?”

This mom I was talking to said that when she asked her daughter, “What would the other grown-ups say about what happened?” the little girl told her exactly what happened!  I thought that really demonstrated that she didn’t want to be the one to disappoint her mom (the other grown-ups did it).

I think it’s important to not make a big deal out of a lie, but rather focus on the issue. Quickly “skip over” the lying aspect, and ask questions about how the child is feeling. When a child answers, “No,” in response to “Did you do that?”, a helpful way to approach the issue might be to say, “Well, I heard differently…I wonder if it’s very tiring/ stressful/ busy/ (whatever might be most accurate) for you when you are visiting your friend’s house? Maybe you feel angry sometimes, or lost in the shuffle?”

Even if our guesses are wrong, doing this gives a child the opportunity to correct us with, “No mommy, I’m just….” and we can explore the root of the problem from there.  By focusing on the “real” issues (the ones a child would lie about), kids will learn that they can trust parents to go to with problems and that we’ll understand and offer them help.

Here is JJ, lying on our bed:


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