What do I do when my child tells white lies?

By Hayley King

Estimated Reading time: 5 mins

Speaking to your child when you find out they’re lying can be tricky. Here are some ways in which you can approach the situation in a suitable manner.

Before asking yourself what to do when your child is lying, first you need to examine why they are telling white lies.  This could be one of many different reasons. Most commonly, some of the reasons why a child may lie includes:

  • They are afraid of getting into trouble
  • They might be looking for a reaction from you
  • To make themselves sound exciting to ‘fit in’
  • To get something they want
  • Or they have observed another child lying.

After you have explored why your child might have lied, you can assess how best you can respond to the lie.

Demonstrate Trustworthy Behaviour

Firstly, children need to develop an understanding about being honest and the importance of being honest. There are many ways of encouraging your child to understand concepts of honesty.

One of the ways you can develop your child’s awareness is to demonstrate trustworthy and honest behaviour. Your children value everything you do and see their primary caregivers are major role models in their lives. If you demonstrate honest and trust worthy behaviour your children will most likely do the same.

Everybody Makes Mistakes

Explain to children that everyone makes mistakes and that when we make a mistake, it is important to learn from them and discuss what they could’ve done differently. A child needs to feel safe, secure and supported to open up about mistakes. Don’t force the truth out of your child that will make the child more intimidated to be honest. Give your child time and a chance to explain themselves, ask your child prompting questions to encourage them to think about the situation and what is happening.

Encourage Honesty

Take the time regularly to encourage your children to be honest and explain reasons why it is important to be. Children respond well when they understand reasons why we do things and how the situation could affect someone else. This also promotes early development of emotional intelligence, encouraging your child to view a situation from multiple perspectives.

Don’t let emotions take control

If you are in a situation where you know your child is lying to you, try not to let your emotions take control. If you need, take a break to remember that developmentally, your child is learning right from wrong and as trusted adults you need to encourage morality. . After you have had time to calm down talk through the situation with your child, ask them what has happened and try to separate the lie and the behaviour that led to it so that your child understands the importance of honesty as well as the importance of why we don’t do the wrong thing.

Here are some tips for encouraging your child to be honest and tell the truth:

  • If your child is making up a story about something, you can respond by saying something like, ‘That’s a great story – we could make it into a book’. This encourages your child’s imagination without encouraging lying.
  • Help your child avoid situations where she feels she needs to lie. For example, if your child has spilled some milk and you ask her whether she did it, she might feel tempted to lie. To avoid this situation you could just say, ‘I see there’s been an accident with the milk. Let’s clean it up’.
  • When your child owns up to doing something wrong, praise them for being honest. Say things like, ‘I’m really glad you told me the truth. I like it when you’re honest’. This sends the message that you won’t get upset if your child owns up to something

boy and dad playing

There are plenty of stories you could also read with your children about the importance of honesty. A good example of a story is “the Boy Who Cried Wolf”. This story is about a Shepard boy that was bored of watching the village sheep that he lied and cried out “Wolf! Wolf! The wolf is chasing my sheep”. The boy repeated this again and again until the villagers grow tired of it and didn’t come to help when an actual wolf came. You can explain to your child that the villagers thought the boy was lying again, so when a real wolf came along that didn’t listen to him.

Overall, if you take time to explain and teach your children about honesty and give them a chance to explain situations to you this then builds a trusting and honest relationship between the both of you. Your child will then feel more comfortable to open up and be honest with you.

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