why do kids lie

5 Ways to Raise a Liar

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Why do kids lie? I mean, let’s face it: If you have kids, you’ve been lied to. If you have kids and you haven’t been lied to, your kids are really good at lying and see sentence number two above. In many ways, lying is part of how kids figure out how the world works. It’s developmentally normal.

We still don’t want to encourage it, but sometimes, unwittingly, we do. Here are 5 ways to ensure lying becomes not just a bad habit but a character trait in your kid.

1. Be a liar.

One of the best ways to reinforce your child’s willingness to bend the truth is to bend the truth yourself.

One of the best ways to reinforce your child’s willingness to bend the truth is to bend the truth yourself. If you’re willing to lie to that salesperson on the phone because you don’t want to be bothered, or to the cable representative to get your bill lowered, or to your mom because you really don’t want her to visit, then why wouldn’t your child think it’s OK to lie to get what he or she wants, too? Why do kids lie? Often because their parents do.

2. Punish lying without encouraging truth-telling.

Generally, as parents, we are much better at punishing than rewarding. We’re quick to yell or take away privileges, but we often let good behavior slide by without any acknowledgment. While obviously you cannot and should not take the time to praise every true thing your child says (“Why yes, that IS a hamburger. Way to tell the truth!”), you can identify times when your child chooses to tell the truth when telling the truth is particularly challenging (“I’m proud of you for telling me you didn’t finish your homework. Can we talk about why?”).

3. Avoid talking about honesty.

Do you ever have conversations with your child about why telling the truth matters? After all, it’s not obvious. In fact, sometimes, it really does seem to benefit you to twist the truth. So why should your child be honest when it doesn’t serve him or her? Can you even articulate that? Maybe you should start there.

4. Overreact.

If you are someone who freaks out on your kids when they do something wrong, you need to expect to be lied to. I’m not saying some things don’t deserve your freaking out. Every parent has lost it at some point (at least those who have lived long enough to have teenagers), but those times should be few and far between.

5. Don’t give them the freedom to fail.

It’s easy to get into a groove where we celebrate successes and do our best to choke back our disappointment about mistakes. But we can work to encourage our kids even when they fail—to celebrate effort as opposed to accomplishment. When we do that, we can create a family culture in which there is less incentive to be dishonest and our kids can feel safer telling the truth, whatever it might be.

Sound off: What are other things dads do that inadvertently encourage deception?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Do you think it’s ever OK to bend the truth?”