When Fibbing Gets Out Of Control

Is Your Kid A Little Liar? A Mom Coach Offers Advice — & A Surprising Silver Lining

Turns out, lying isn’t always entirely bad.

If your child is lying to you, it's important to try to get to the root of why they're being dishone...
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Got a little liar on your hands? Sure, it's frustrating when your child lies, but did you know that there's actually a positive side to it? Of course, it's definitely not the type of behavior you want to encourage or let get out of hand, but it might be at least a tiny bit reassuring to realize your kid's penchant for fibbing isn't necessarily all bad. Still, you’re probably ready to nip it in the bud if your kid seems to be lying to you about everything under the sun.

To help you get to the bottom of your child's behavior, Scary Mommy tapped life and mom coach Stephanie Rosenfield for her expert insights on why your kid might be lying to you and what you can do about it.

Hold on, what's the positive side here?

So, your kid told you a lie and is sticking to it. Congratulations! Your child is showing signs of social and cognitive development. OK, a pat on the back might be taking it a step too far, but the fact is, lying takes skill — skills that require the ability to plan ahead and the capability to understand what others are thinking and feeling.

According to one study, telling prosocial lies, or lying for the benefit of others, can be a sign of emotional intelligence. In other words, sometimes kids tell lies to protect the people they care about. Still, kids do lie for different reasons, like avoiding punishment or getting what they want (AKA antisocial lies). Whatever the type of lies your child tells, it's important to remember that it's not uncommon.

Why is my kid lying, and what can I do about it?

"Lying is very normal in childhood. And it's something that all kids experiment with in different ways," says Rosenfield, adding that parents should ask themselves why they think their kid might be lying. She suggests these specific prompts to help guide the process:

  • Are they trying to avoid getting in trouble?
  • Is it something they wish really happened?
  • Are they trying to see how an adult would react if that thing happened?
  • Are they trying to evoke an emotion from the adult?

Rosenfield says that finding the answers can help parents relate to the reasons behind their child's lies and find the best solutions. After all, adults tell lies all the time — sometimes big lies and often a bunch of little white lies. Just think about the last time you called in "sick" to work or told a friend you had other plans and couldn't accept their invitation. Chances are you needed a day off or just didn't feel like hanging out. Understanding that kids can feel these very same things is key to handling their lies with compassion.

While getting frustrated and using punishment to get kids to tell the truth might be the first route many parents take (understandably!), Rosenfield says it's probably not the best way to handle the situation.

"While there isn't a 'right' way to approach this that will magically make them into truth-telling kids, my go-to approach in these moments is to channel calm. You may feel rage-y and annoyed inside, but try to remember, "This is normal, and it's going to be OK. We are going to figure this out." Then you can get curious and ask questions. Reacting with anger and frustration usually doesn't work and, in fact, could push them to deny that they are lying even more," said Rosenfield.

When do we need intervention?

Getting kids to break the cycle of lying overnight isn't a realistic expectation. Parents should be prepared to take some time working through the reasons and helping their children find new ways to express themselves that don't involve lying. Though Rosenfield says if kids are showing a pattern of lying consistently for several weeks or if they begin telling "big" lies, seeking assistance from a child therapist or specialist can help uncover if something more serious is going on.

If you think your child is exhibiting problematic behavior or conduct, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a breakdown of behavioral problems in kids that can serve as a good starting resource.