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Ask Sarah: Why kids lie and what to do about it?

Parenting expert Sarah Rosensweet explains why wishful thinking leads little kids to tell fibs.

Ask Sarah: Why kids lie and what to do about it?

Struggling with tantrums, bedtime boundaries, or simply wondering how to raise happy, confident kids? Sarah Rosensweet offers peaceful parenting advice to help families find balance.

Have a question for Sarah? Send us an email at editors@todaysparent.com.

Q: How do I handle a situation where I know my child is lying to me? - Mom of two, ages almost 4 and 2.5

mom looking at daughter holding her hand smiling

A: If you know your child is lying and they are younger than around 6, take a deep breath. Before kids reach the ‘age of reason’ they don’t really understand the moral implications of lying. It does not mean your child is headed for a lifetime of deceit. 

The biggest reason little kids lie is what I call 'wishful thinking.'

They WISH they had washed their hands or tidied up their rooms and when presented with the opportunity to put off or get out of the unpleasant task, they take it. 

What do you do? 

First, let’s try to prevent the lies. Try to ask questions that don’t invite an “I wish” answer. 

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Instead of, “Did you wash your hands?” ask, “Let me smell those nice fresh clean hands!” 

Instead of, “Did you clean your room?” ask, “Show me your tidy room!”

If it’s too late and you’ve already asked and gotten a lie, remind yourself that it’s not an emergency. This is normal developmental behaviour and it doesn't mean your child is morally bankrupt.

We really don’t want to make a big deal about this. In fact, you can take heart in the fact that research shows that kids who lie tend to have a high IQ.

What do you do if it's too late?

If you know they’re lying, don’t get into a power struggle by insisting that they admit to you that it’s a lie.

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With a light-hearted tone, you can say, “I bet you WISH you’d already washed your hands. Come on! Let’s go. I’ll race you to the washroom!” 

Another reason little kids lie is because they don’t want to disappoint you or get in trouble.

If you think this is the case, you might say, “You know, I wonder if you’re afraid to tell me what happened because you think I’ll be disappointed or angry. You know what? I might not be happy about it but I will always love you no matter what and we will work together to try to fix it.” 

If this type of lie happens regularly, I would work on staying calm and not having a big negative reaction when your child messes up. Showing your displeasure won’t make your child act better, it will only make them feel bad about themselves and try to hide their mistakes with lies.

Try to stay calm and focus on repair instead of on what went wrong. We want our kids to know that they are worthy and loveable even when they mess up.

Need support with other parenting challenges? Our Ask Sarah series covers topics like how to reduce bedtime struggles and how to prepare for playdates.
Author:
Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and her 15- and 18-year-old kids. Her 22-year-old son has launched. Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy.
Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to “we’ve got this!”
Sarah offers a free course, How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids, so that you can be the parent you want to be. Read more at: www.sarahrosensweet.com  or listen to her top-rated parenting podcast, The Peaceful Parenting Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts!
This article was originally published on Mar 03, 2023

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Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and her 15- and 18-year-old kids. Her 22-year-old son has launched.

Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to “we’ve got this!”

Sarah offers a free course, How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids, so that you can be the parent you want to be.

Read more at: www.sarahrosensweet.com or listen to her top-rated parenting podcast, The Peaceful Parenting Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts!

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