The Ultimate Parent Guide to Childhood Lying

Lying is one of the most common behaviors parents contact me about. When someone lies to you, it breaks the trust and connection in your relationship. It may also trigger trauma from past betrayals. Lying shatters the felt safety we have with someone. It’s no wonder parents want to nip lying in the bud.


When our kids lie to us, we seem to immediately react. We don’t want to raise liars. We want to have a safe relationship with them. Lying from our kids makes us feel out of control.

The first thing we need to do is recognize why lying gets such a strong reaction from us. Then, we can explore why our kids might be lying.

Most of our kids have a brain that triggers a fear-based fight/flight/freeze response way too often. If someone feels in danger, lying is one self-protective act to help one survive. It’s also important to remember, that when the fear center is triggered, the logic brain is not engaged. This means that even if a child knows lying is wrong, he will still do it. It’s subconsciously reflexive rather than consciously calculated.

Some kids lie because it’s entertaining to watch our reactions. Lying is one of the fastest ways to pull us into an argument. Some kids get an addictive adrenaline rush from these arguments. In this case, lying becomes a sort of game.

Lying may also be confabulation. Kids with ADHD often have memory problems. Confabulation someone makes something up in the absence of a true memory.

Lastly, some kids don’t have the same paradigm about lying that we have. We see it as a serious, trust-breaking offense. Some of our kids don’t have the executive functioning skills to understand the future impact of a lie. If your child came to you through adoption or foster care, lying may not have been seen as bad in their last family culture. It may have been seen as shrewd or even smart.

In all of these cases, lying doesn’t feel like a big deal to our kids, so when we have a big reaction, they won’t understand. Our big reaction will just trigger them. Then we’ve entered into an escalating spiral.

Even though we have an understanding of why lying happens, does not mean we should let our kids get away with it.

Here are some practical tips for dealing with lying.

[bctt tweet=”Here are some practical tips for when your child lies. #parenting” username=”corkboardblog”]

1. Don’t ask questions that will likely produce a lie. Instead of asking, “Did you make that mess?” try, “Hey Johnny, let’s clean up this mess.” If he protests, “I didn’t make it!” respond, “No one said you did, but it needs to get cleaned up, and I need your help.”

2. If you do venture down the road of asking, preface with, “Will you promise to tell me what really happened? Everything is going to be okay. I’m here for you.” Also, try using the phrase, “Tell me the story of _________.” This is less accusatory and less likely to trigger your child to lie. The biggest key here is to accept whatever comes out of your child’s mouth. You don’t have to agree. Use the phrase, “Thanks for sharing.” The more we act like we believe our kids, the more they’ll tell us the truth. You also don’t want to get caught up in an argument that could escalate to something worse.

3. Ignore the lie, not the child. Bryan Post recommends a two-step interaction after a lie. Right after your child lies to you, say, “Everything’s going to be all right. Do you understand?” A couple of hours later, after the incident has passed and your child is regulated, follow up with, “When you tell me a lie, it hurts me. I need you to know that you can trust me, and everything is going to be okay. Do you understand?”

Remember that lying is not the first step to having a child in jail. Take back control of yourself. Don’t let lying control you.

Do you have a question or tip about lying? Join the conversation in our ADHD parent support group on Facebook. Click here to join.

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