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Why Do Children Lie?

Why Do Children Lie?

The evidence—a crayon drawing on the wall—overwhelmingly pointed to the culprit. The signature on the drawing cinched it. When confronted, the 7-year-old guilty party denied quite vehemently that she had done the deed.

When the above scenario played out in my house, I wasn’t surprised that the child in question lied about drawing on the wall. Having a child baldly lie can be shocking to parents, but even kids from Christian homes do lie sometimes.

“Children lie for a number of different reasons,” says Dr. Scott Turansky, co-founder of the National Center for Biblical Parenting headquartered in Lawrenceville, N.J. “Preschoolers might lie because they have a hard time differentiating between fantasy and reality, while older children deliberately lie to get out trouble, make themselves look better or get something that they want.”

Children also tell falsehoods to gain control of a situation or to avoid conflict, says Wendy Asbell, a mother of seven children who blogs about her family’s journey of faith at from her Achilles, Va., home.

The ability to lie doesn’t begin at birth. Children start to lie around age 3 because that’s when the ability to state nonfactual things develops. Around age 4, children are able to tell additional statements that won’t contradict the lie. By age 7 or 8, children can fib with such skill that it can be “very difficult to catch some of these kids,” says Dr. C. Eric Jones, director of undergraduate psychology at Regent University School of Psychology and Counseling in Virginia Beach, Va.

What is a Lie?

Defining what lying is can be extremely helpful when figuring out how to best combat the telling of falsehoods. “Some people think that lying is saying something that isn’t true,” says Turansky. “Lying is defined as using words or symbols with the intent to deceive.”

Since we all exaggerate and add to our experiences, we need to teach children the difference between the right kind of embellishment and the wrong kind. “One of the things we have to say to kids is that it’s important for them to give us the facts that are clear, and then if they want to add anything else to the story that they thought happened or wished had happened, that’s okay. That clarifies what the difference between the facts and adding information,” says Turansky.

“While we are on the lookout for exaggeration, we must bear in mind that the snarling dog the child is telling about was a lot larger to his small form than it was to ours,” adds Asbell. “In short, a parent needs to use the wisdom sought and gained from the Lord and His Word to correctly interpret the child’s heart in each situation, and when applicable, to take the necessary steps to encourage honesty.”

Behind the Lies

Lying is basically a heart issue. As Jeremiah writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked : who can know it?” (17:9, NIV)

Turansky recommends parents keep in mind three things when it comes to children and lying. “One, is the temptation to deceive is greater than the internal character. Two, lying is always a shortcut because the truth is hard work. Three, kid’s don’t always have the confidence to do the right thing when faced with the temptation to lie.”

One way parents can help their children overcome their lying is to model truthful behavior. “When you say something, mean it. Confess when you didn’t tell the whole truth, which is painful to do with your kids, but good for them to see,” says Jones.

But be careful not to discipline your children for fibbing when you have a lying habit yourself. “I think many parents make a big mistake by making a huge issue out of lying in their child while they allow it to happen in their own lives. Be humble. Actively deal with your own issues as you instruct your child in the same area,” says Asbell.

“Set a strict example of honesty in yourself. Holding your children to a standard that you are not willing to example is a futile effort. Do not allow yourself any room to be deceitful or manipulative. When you do fail, and you will, repent and make it right. Show your children that. Parenting God’s way is not for the proud, but for the humble,” she adds.

Embracing Truth

Lying damages relationships, which are founded on honesty. “The natural consequence of lying is that you damage relationships, which is another significant thing to teach our children about the importance of the truth,” explains Turansky.

“Point out example of people in the news or give real life examples (without names) of how lying has negatively affected their lives. There is nothing more powerful than a real life example a child can look at and say ‘I do not want to be like that!’” suggests Asbell.

Helping our children to embrace the truth in a culture that at times seems to celebrate deceitfulness can be a challenge, especially in the area of the so-called “white lies.” “We need to teach our children how to relate in socially awkward situations when the truth is at stake and white lies are more common,” says Turansky.

For example, your child attends a birthday party but did not have a good time overall. As he leaves the party, if he says he had a good time, that would be a lie. But saying he had a bad time would not be polite and probably hurt the birthday boy’s feelings. “What we need to do is to teach our children alternatives because these situations are putting them between a rock and a hard place,” says Turansky. “I would suggest there’s another place they can go and we should teach our children better responses.”

In the party example, you can teach your child to avoid the question of whether or not they enjoyed the party. Turansky recommends focusing on something positive, like the friendship, or on one aspect of the party the child enjoyed. “We need to look for something that we can say that’s affirming. Children need to learn how to be gracious without losing the truth,” says Turansky.

Overall, be vigilant when it comes to correcting lies your children tell. Asbell equates ignoring lying to letting weeds overtake your garden. “Weeds quickly grow out of control and take over. You may not think the weed is doing much damage, but it is hidden from you how the roots are slowly taking over the good plants and affecting what they can produce. If you ignore them until they are big issues it takes a lot more muscle to uproot them and damage is always done to the garden.”

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired @ Home: The Christian Mother's Guide to Working From Home. She lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children. Visit her at