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Why does my child lie so much?

By Bob Cunningham, EdM

Question: My daughter tells lies all the time — big ones and small ones. She does it even when it’s clear that what she’s saying isn’t true. She’s a good kid, and I don’t understand why she’s lying so much.

Answer:

Many kids tell lies sometimes, and it usually isn’t a big problem. But if your child is lying a lot, it can be confusing and upsetting.

Kids tell lies for lots of reasons. Usually they want to take control of a situation by changing the story so that it works better for them. A common example is telling a lie to cover up a mistake and avoid getting in trouble.

They may also tell lies when they’re feeling stressed, are trying to avoid conflict, or want attention. Sometimes kids lie when something bad or embarrassing has happened to them. They want to keep it hidden or to create a story for themselves that makes them feel better.

Age and development play a role, too. Young kids may lie about something they wish were true, like telling people they’re getting a puppy when they’re not. Teens may tell lies to protect their privacy.

Something to consider is whether your child’s lying is a new development. Has there been a change in environment? Does she have a new group of friends? Is something stressful happening at school or at home that might explain the behavior?

People often think that lying is an act of defiance. But that’s not always the case. Some kids can’t control it. They may not even realize they’re doing it. That can happen when kids have trouble with self-control , organizing their thoughts, or thinking about consequences. These difficulties are related to a group of skills called executive functions .

For these kids, frequent lying isn’t uncommon, and they usually don’t do it on purpose. In fact, they often feel really bad about it when they realize they did it.

Of course, you don’t want your child to tell lies. But it’s important to find out what’s behind the behavior so you can respond in the best way.

What happens when you point out the lying? Does your child feel bad about it and accept the truth?

Try to observe and pick up patterns in the behavior. That can give you clues. And find out why some kids struggle with impulsivity . Once you have a better sense of what’s going on, it can be easier to explain why lying isn’t the best way to handle a situation.

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