Lying is as any form of behaviour the function of which is to mislead other/s, by providing false information or depriving them of true information (Levine & Schweitzer, 2014; Smith, 2004). The information being lied about includes actions related to person/s, activity/s, item/s, location/s, transport/s, time/s and personal information. The act of “lying can be conscious or unconscious, verbal or nonverbal, stated or unstated” (Smith, 2004, p. 14).


For a range of reasons that are a part of normal development, children lie. As children mature and with guidance from caregivers and society, moral development occurs. Moral development, based on social and cultural norms, rules and laws, refers to the process through which children form a progressive sense of what is right and wrong, proper and improper attitudes and behaviours towards other people, and an understanding of how to make the right choices (Dorough, 2011; Usakli, 2010). In relation to lying, children begin to understand why lying is wrong and develop the ability to control their impulses and not just give into the impulse of lying. They are able to stop and think about the consequences of their behaviour and the impact of their actions for themselves and the potential victim before they act.


For some children, lying becomes persistent and chronic. When lying behaviour is prolonged and ongoing, it becomes ingrained in the child. Lying affects everyone involved, and the child who is lying requires necessary help to learn positive ways of behaving and managing their emotions.

Lying behaviour is seen especially in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorders, and trauma and stress related disorders for a variety of reasons.


Lying can cause negative consequences for the child, the family, and the community at large. When children lie it can leave others feeling hurt, angry or frustrated, but worst of all, it will make it difficult for others to trust the child.

Consequences for the child include others losing trust in the child, lost relationships, lost opportunities, loss of respect, the need to tell more lies to avoid having to face the consequences.

Hence, lying behaviour affects everyone involved and the child who is lying requires necessary help to learn positive ways of behaving and managing their emotions.


Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) focuses on evidence-based strategies and person-centred supports that address the needs of the individual and the underlying causes of behaviours of concern, to enhance the quality of life for both the individual and those that support them.

 PBS recognises that there is no single cause for lying behaviour. It is a complex behaviour that is a product of the interaction between multiple factors contributing to its development and persistence.

 Lying behaviour is like the tip of the iceberg so it is essential to look beneath the surface to work out the why before we can address the problem.

 There are three main setting-related factors which impact the child and their behaviour:

  • environment
  • activity, and
  • interaction.

 These factors place different demands on the child and when any of these demands outweigh the child’s skills to cope with them, the child engages in lying behaviour. Lying may be the only way the child has learnt how to respond to these demands and get their message across.


Hazel has always found it hard to fit in at school. She is academically behind and has always had difficulty with making friends. Her dad runs his own business so works full time seven days a week. Her mother has severe depression so even though she is home she is not able to care for Hazel, give her attention, basic care, emotional warmth and time to get to know how she is going and what she needs help with. So, Hazel is left to her own devices for most of the time.

Hazel will often turn up to school without food. Before recess or lunch, she always asks the teacher if she can play basketball. The teacher explains to her that she can play basketball only if the area is supervised. If it isn’t supervised, she then has to join her peers. When her peers ask where her food is, she will often say she had a big breakfast and is going out for afternoon tea with her mum so isn’t hungry. If she thinks her peers are starting to doubt her story, she will on purpose have a fight with them and leave them.

Hazel’s teachers are frustrated because Hazel appears to be forgetful. She is always forgetting to bring in the signed excursion form or bring additional resources (e.g. notebooks, pens or craft material). Hazel is always borrowing resources from the teacher or her peers to complete her work. When her teachers ask her where the signed excursion form is, she keeps saying she forgot to ask her parents. She doesn’t want to tell the truth that by the time her dad gets home he is too tired to chat to her or go out and get something and her mum can easily anger so Hazel does not want to bother her.

Hazel in the last couple of months has had a growth spurt and has outgrown a lot of her clothes. She wears a jacket to cover up her undersized clothes even if it’s a hot day. On days where it is too hot and especially if there is assembly in the gym which is even hotter, Hazel finds it unbearable. Instead of taking off her jacket she will tell her teacher that she needs to go to the sick bay and can’t attend assembly.

Hazel’s teacher is extremely concerned about her and regularly asks her if everything is OK. Hazel says ‘Fine!’.

The example highlights that lying behaviour is not without purpose. It is never too late to address lying behaviour, even if it has been occurring for a while.

Developing a comprehensive and individualised PBS plan to address the lying behaviour involves three stages: Assess-Manage-Prevent.

  • ASSESS: How to identify the reasons that contribute to the lying behaviour,
  • MANAGE: How to respond when lying behaviour occurs, and
  • PREVENT: How to minimise or eliminate the occurrence of lying behaviour.


Assess Stage Aims

The Assess stage helps to identity:

  • Activities during which the lying behaviour occurs,
  • Environments in which the lying behaviour occurs, and
  • People dealing with the lying behaviour.

Assess Stage Checklist:

  • Child’s profile – Gather information about the child to create a comprehensive picture of the child, their abilities and needs.
  • Behaviour data collection forms – Record measurable details (e.g. frequency, intensity, duration) about the child’s lying
  • Functional Behaviour Analysis (FBA)- Systematically reflect on an incident by analysing the antecedents (what preceded the lying behaviour), describing the lying behaviour, consequences (what happened after the lying behaviour).
  • Hypothesis – Determine the purpose (function) that the lying behaviour served.


Manage Stage Aims

The Manage Stage outlines how to effectively respond to the behaviours that occur before the lying and after. Appropriate responses can help to safely defuse, redirect, and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.

Manage Stage Checklist:

  • Escalation stages – Help those supporting the child to recognise the number of stages the child exhibits as their emotion rises (i.e. mild escalation, moderate escalation, extreme escalation, and recovery stage).
  • Escalation profile– Help those supporting the child to recognise what non-verbal and/or verbal behaviours are exhibited in the different escalation stages, where the lying behaviour occurs in the escalation and how long it can last.
  • De-escalation plan – Help those supporting the child with guidelines on how to immediately respond when the behaviour occurs, safely defuse, and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.


Prevent Stage Aims

This stage aims to minimise the occurrence of the lying by reducing or avoiding the triggers that cause it and teach the child alternative behaviours.

Prevent Stage plan

The plan details strategies to minimise or avoid the triggers that contribute to the lying behaviours by providing the child with:

  • Supportive environments – Tailoring environment related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that contribute to the occurrence of lying
  • Supportive activities – Tailoring activity related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that contribute to the occurrence of lying.
  • Supportive interactions – Tailoring interaction aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that contribute to the occurrence of lying behaviour, and
  • Teaching the child – Teaching the student positive ways of communicating their messages and managing their emotions and behaviours.


Use the practical tools (checklists, forms, and strategies) in L for Lying: Positive Behaviour Support guide to develop comprehensive PBS plans that can be used to support children of all ages consistently in all settings.

This invaluable guide is useful for parents, caregivers, educators in childcare, early childhood, primary and secondary schools, disability, mental health, allied health, and supervisory professionals.


  • Dorough S. (2011). Moral Development. In: Goldstein S., Naglieri J.A. (eds) Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development. Springer, Boston, MA.
  • Levine, E. E., & Schweitzer, M. E. (2014). Are liars ethical? On the tension between benevolence and honesty. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 107-117.
  • Smith, D. L., 2004. Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Usakli, H. (2010). Recurrent issues in the moral development of children and the need for a new approach. Occasional Papers in Education & Lifelong Learning: An International Journal, 4, 97-109.