Kids and Lying

kids-lie-parentAll kids lie. They start young, look innocently into your eyes and tell you the answers that you want to hear. Then it’s like a shock to a parent that their child told a lie! How does that happen?

Kids lie because they know instinctively that if they do something wrong, they will see a disapproving look on their parents’ face. They don’t like that. Parents don’t like it when their kids lie.

How do kids lie? Well, instinctively all kids know how to get a reaction from their parents. All kids, and everyone else, would rather receive praise than disappointment. I am going to assume that kids know that if they do lie, they will get in trouble so they will try and hold off getting into trouble as long as they can. It seems to make sense.

Although kids do lie, parents can help set that up. How?

When parents ask their kid if something happened, and parents already think that their child did something, they will still ask.

For example: Kid goes to cookie jar for a cookie. Kid knows he can’t have one till after dinner. There are crumbs around the cookie jar and on the kid’s face. Parent comes in and sees the mess and sees the kid. Parent asks the question: Did you eat a cookie? The kid responds: No. Parent continues to ask and kid repeatedly says “no”, until the kid finally fesses up. Parent and kid are both upset and parent wonders how her child learned how to lie.

The difference for this scenario would be the parent’s response with the scenario. Parent sees the mess and kid’s face. Parent says: The cookies are not supposed to be eaten till after dinner. Since you ate a cookie now, you may not have one after dinner. The kid may protest. Parent says: Not discussing what you did or didn’t do, you are not supposed to have a cookie before dinner. End of discussion.

So, Parents, if it’s obvious that your kid did something that he/she is not supposed to, don’t set him/her up to lie. Don’t ask. It’s okay to apologize later if the kid actually didn’t do what was thought, but if you already know: make a comment about what happened, tell what was not appropriate, don’t engage when the child protests, and say what type of punishment he/she will have or that you will tell him/her later what will happen.

This takes out the whole cycle of your kid lying and you being shocked that he/she lied.


© Copyright 2010 by Kelly Sanders, MFT, therapist in Rancho Cucamonga, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Amy


    August 24th, 2010 at 4:34 AM

    I try to always make it so that my daughter knows that she does not have to fear telling the truth, and I think that is where part of the problem falls for so many parents. The kids know that if they do something wrong and then get caught they are going to be in so much trouble so then they lie and try to cover it all up. I have always tried to stress to my daughter that probably she would be in even more trouble for lying than the actual thing that she may have done and is then trying to cover up. We can fix wrong, but then the more lies that it gets wrapped up in the more difficult it is to make that change and make things right.

  • M.Alister


    August 24th, 2010 at 7:23 PM

    Wow, I had never thought that it is the parents who actually promote lying by reacting in a particular manner. My sister’s gonna have a baby soon and this article would be useful to her in the long run. I shall pass it on to her, thank you for this informative piece of writing :)

  • charlotte


    August 25th, 2010 at 4:41 AM

    Most kids lie to get attention and for these kids it does not matter if the attention that they receive is good or bad- just that they are getting it. So a note to all adults out there- why not try paying better attention to your kids and the stuff going on in their lives and maybe some of this lying would be curbed? I think that a lot of times when kids are acting out it has nothing to do with them wanting to do something wrong, it is just that they know that is going to be the one sure way to get someone to pay attention to what is going on with them. Sad really how many children today probably feel like they have to resort to this kind of behavior to get a reaction from parents and family that they really deep down inside only want to please.

  • lily B

    lily B

    August 25th, 2010 at 5:01 AM

    kids are not born with tactfulness. they can’t lie by themselves. they see us, their parents doing it and that’s how they get it! it would be better to first stop lying ourselves and then teach our kids about why lying is a bad thing so that they are mentally insulated from picking it up by seeing an outsider.



    August 25th, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    @lily B:You are absolutely right.We want to teach the best things to our kids and expect them to follow what we tell them but make no effort to follows those things ourselves.This will certainly be picked up by the children who will not be able to follow the things because they do not see the same put into practice by their own parents!

  • Charlie T

    Charlie T

    August 25th, 2010 at 8:07 PM

    I hate it when my five year old son lies…some people find it funny when a child lies but I absolutely hate it. If he can lie at five, I would not want to imagine what he will do next!

  • Ian


    August 26th, 2010 at 4:05 AM

    kids lying is not a major problem but it can become just that if ignored and not taken care of…if you find your kid lying just explain to him about it…getting mad at the kid is not goin to help at all and may even encourage him even more!

  • Faith


    August 26th, 2010 at 4:41 AM

    Parents can take responsibility for some of this but not for all of it. It is our job as adults to teach kids right from wrong but as the kids get older they need to be able to make smart decisions about life and that does not and should not include lying to other people. They get to a certain age where they are old enough to know the difference between right and wrong and should be held accountable if and when they are caught in these webs of lies. It would do them a disservice to not hold them in some way responsible otherwise they will always think that it is ok to blame someone else for the things going on in their lives and for their actions as they get older. It can be a great teaching tool when they are younger to tell them how wrong it is to lie but as they come into adulthood they also need to learn more about taking responsibility for their own actions and the choices that they make.

  • Jan


    August 27th, 2010 at 4:42 AM

    Kids lie to get out of trouble, we all know that. What is the nbig deal? teach them that it is wrong, don’t accept their lies as the truth and move on. There will be something new for you to deal with next week.

  • Joyce


    April 30th, 2015 at 8:39 AM

    My son, now 22 is telling us what we want to hear ( his perception) we always want the truth and have had many discussions how the truth will never be worse than a lie. We want to get him counseling because we can’t be sure if there are other issues at hand. What kind of counselor should we look for?

  • Jeanette


    March 10th, 2017 at 2:15 PM

    This article is very helpful. I didn’t think that by knowing the problem and then asking my daughter the question, would cause her to lie. It makes sense to be more firm on the point, to give less room for lies. Thanks.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.