Child, Parenting, Parenting, Toddler

Why do children lie?

Why do children lie?

Whether it’s fibs, white lies or breaches of trust – every child has lied at some point. We’ll show you why children lie, how you can spot lies, and how to show kids that lying is always a bad alternative.

The causes of lies

Children lie when they feel they can’t help themselves. At the latest by elementary school age, however, they are actually able to assess the “appropriateness” of small lies.
The family atmosphere is a major factor that affects the child in terms of openness and honesty. Of course, the entire environment, including school and friends, also has an influence on the child in this regard.

Basically, kids tend to lie when they feel cornered. Because actually they want to be honest. The truth is important to the child. And yet many kids can’t help but lie straight to the face of other kids and adults.

So it’s not dramatic if you repeatedly “catch” your child not telling the truth. However, the behavior of the child can still be controlled even if it has already gotten into the habit of telling untruths from time to time. It is helpful to know about the various backgrounds and reasons that tempt kids to lie.

Fear is often the reason behind a lie. For example, children’s fear of school can be the trigger for a lie to avoid classmates or teachers. Illnesses are feigned, school is skipped or classes are blocked with the constant fear of being confronted with something unpleasant.

School psychology perspective

Strictly speaking, lying is part of social intelligence according to developmental and learning psychology findings. This behavior is not innate, it is learned. Because kids didn’t learn the difference between a white lie and a “real” lie until about the end of elementary school, they see no difference between those lies that give them an advantage and those that help them avoid hurting others .

School psychology also assumes that children are usually in more or less difficult emergency situations that cause them to lie. Basically, children are uncomfortable not telling the truth because of the strong fears associated with it.
Therefore, school psychologists recommend setting a trusting and honest example. In this way, the child learns that it can talk about its problems instead of covering them up with lies.


Situations where children lie

Most kids lie knowingly. You know the line between truth and untruth. This is usually knowingly violated. The reasons for this can be of various kinds.

Being overwhelmed is a reason for kids to lie. If they can’t cope with real life, they create an illusionary world in which things are very different from reality. Overwhelmed kids then claim to have already fulfilled their tasks in order to use the free time they have swindled in a different way. Everyday life seems uncomfortably exhausting or impossible to cope with. Therefore, these children also tend to save themselves from difficult situations with lies. You don’t want to be the target of arguments or involved in other people’s conflicts. Because life itself is hard enough for them.

Sometimes kids lie because they don’t want to face the consequences of their actions. In fact, they are simply afraid of being punished. In the event of small mishaps or violations, it is therefore very easy for the truth to be twisted. What they don’t realize is that their lies are easy for adults to see through. It gets bad for the child itself when it becomes more and more entangled in its lies and at some point can no longer find a way into honesty.

On the other hand, a child may lie to gain approval. It is not uncommon for dishonest kids to have a rather battered self-confidence that does not allow them to stand by themselves and the facts. Children living in poverty are affected quite often. They try to cover up the truth so as not to fall out of favor with the other kids. Because they are ashamed, they start lying. So the unemployed father suddenly becomes a top lawyer and a little later there is even a Porsche in the garage at home that doesn’t actually exist at all, which of course doesn’t really exist either. In this way, kids often try desperately to gain the approval of their peers.

The classic white lie is also a common phenomenon among children. It usually doesn’t weigh that heavily because untruths are said out of sheer politeness. For example, the daughters do not want to disappoint their mother by telling her that she is ashamed that she is overweight. Directly confronted with this question, the daughter will probably divert attention with another topic of conversation or claim that she is not at all ashamed. Such polite lies are usually transparent because the child’s body language and facial expressions signal something completely different than it would like you to believe.

The situation is similar with white lies aimed at protecting the child’s fellow human beings. The child may not want to shame you, so rather than tell you the truth, he or she would rather swindle you. One example is bad grades in class tests.

Here’s how you can help

If a child is lying because they fear punishment, talk to them openly. Show understanding for their behavior and explain that you understand why the child lied. It helps to react differently than the child expects when the truth comes out. In this way, negative conditioning can be “erased”. The child then understands that there is no need to be afraid to tell the truth.

If possible, find a compromise that is okay for the child and still effective as a parenting measure. If punishment is unavoidable, stick to consequences that are a logical consequence of the unwanted behavior. These consequences should also serve to prevent the child from lying in the first place. For example, have the message booklet shown to you each day if the child had previously falsely claimed that there was no entry in the message booklet due to forgetfulness, shame, and fear.

Kids who lie to show off need a boost in their confidence. A sense of achievement and words of praise are balm for the soul of a child whose self-esteem has been crushed. Allow him to be very good at something or even better than others by giving him enough time and financial resources to pursue a hobby of his choice. A sense of achievement is particularly important for elementary school children. If the child is unsuccessful in school, then it not only needs tutoring, but also positive experiences in and outside of school. Once the child has become more self-confident, it is no longer dependent on telling made-up stories and will avoid this behavior on its own.

white lie

When it comes to white lies, the situation is very different. It’s okay to lie if you don’t want to hurt someone. However, the child should also feel that they should be free to share their honest opinions from time to time, because this too is part of a good friendship. In any case, don’t scold the child if you see through his white lies. Because the white lie is also part of the repertoire of social customs for adults. The child will experience again and again how adults keep each other from being sad by cheating a little. When punished for such behavior, the child finds it difficult to understand the punishment or reprimand.

Kids who lie when they are overwhelmed need a lot of attention. Clarify with the child why he does not complete his chores and takes refuge in his dream world. Ask if he is doing really well or if he needs more attention. It may also need help. Introverted kids, in particular, need a lot of time to themselves. If they are forced to be with other kids all the time, they become imbalanced and try to escape from it.

Find out if your child simply needs more time for themselves and, if so, make arrangements with them so that the necessary tasks are still completed. Give your child regular breaks while doing their homework so that they are not overwhelmed. If you consider these points, the child should be more honest with you and cope better with life.

Finally, we look at the children who lie to save another person from shame or suffering. Unlike the classic white lie, these kids need to understand that not everyone can be perfect. It’s okay to have weaknesses or to face criticism from time to time. The child should understand that it is not their job to protect you from such experiences.


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