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Some Reasons Children Lie

  1. To achieve power;
  2. To test the limits;
  3. To challenge authority;
  4. To get something which couldn't be gotten otherwise;
  5. To fulfill wishes;
  6. To avoid punishment;
  7. To protect privacy;
  8. To protect oneself from harm;
  9. To deny painful feelings and/or memories;
  10. To avoid feeling trapped, embarrassed and/or threatened;
  11. To avoid creating an awkward situation;
  12. To experience fun/excitement;
  13. To belong;
  14. To protect friends from trouble;
  15. To increase one's status;
  16. To conceal an unintended mistake;
  17. To appear more important, glamorous and exciting to others;
  18. To fulfill someone's expectations;
  19. To avoid rejection;
  20. To compensate for not having the factual information.

Managing Lying: What To Do And What To Say

  1. Responding to Lying
    1. Ask yourself the following questions:
      1. What might be the reason for lying?
      2. What need(s) might the child be attempting to meet?
      3. Are there certain situations in which this behavior seems to occur?
      4. Are my feelings/responses a clue to why the child might behave this way?
      5. Should I gather more information about the situation before I react?
      6. Are my actions encouraging the child to lie?
        • Am I overprotective?
        • Are the rules too strict?
        • Am I invading the child's privacy?
        • Do I tell lies in front of the child?
  1. In response to the reason for lying, consider doing one or more of the following:
  1. Explain how lying affects trust and how hard it is for people who live together to get along without trust.
  2. Use reflective listening to show your understanding of the child's underlying needs.
  3. Assist the child in meeting underlying needs without addressing the lie (e.g., by exploring alternatives, problem-solving, etc.). 
  4. Ignore the lie and show appreciation when the child does not lie to meet a specific need.
  5. Use an I-message to share your feelings about his or her behavior and to describe the effects of it on you and others.
  6. Give the child accurate information so the child won't have to rely on imagination to fill in any gaps.
  7. Set rules and be consistent in enforcing them if the child is testing your response to certain behaviors.
  8. Don't overreact to the behavior by calling the child a liar.
  9. Focus on solutions to problems instead of blame.
  10. Respect children's privacy when they don't want to share it with you.
  11. Help children to understand that mistakes are opportunities to learn so that they won't believe they are bad and need to conceal their mistakes.
  12. Use consequences related to the original wrongdoing.

Planning Ahead to Prevent/Reduce Future Problems

  1. Don't ask set-up questions that invite lying.
  2. Remember that who the child is now is not who he or she will be forever. Don't overreact and expect that the child will lead a life filled with antisocial behavior. Remember that children will behave as they are expected to.
  3. Set an example in telling the truth. Talk about times when it may have been difficult for you to tell the truth, but you decided it was more important to deal with the consequences and to maintain your self-respect.
  4. Let children know they are unconditionally loved.
  5. Show appreciation when the child tells the truth. For example, "Thanks for telling me the truth. I know it must be hard. I like the courage you show in being willing to face the consequences. I know you can handle them and learn form them too."
  6. Focus on building closeness, openness and trust in your relationships instead of on the problem behaviors.
  7. Look at lying as a developmental phenomenon.
  8. Be certain the child understands that you do not accept lying and the reasons why.
  9. Distinguish between what you would like to know about the child's behavior and what you have to know.
  10. Rather than focusing on trapping the child in a lie, develop a trusting relationship by focusing on the reason for the lie.
  11. Model honesty.
  12. Build and help maintain the conditions for positive self-esteem.
  13. Establish and clearly communicate expectations, limits and rules and make sure you enforce them.

Content used with permission from the Child Welfare League of America,


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This content was last modified on: 09/08/2008

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