How do I help my child who is compulsively lying?

Although lying isn’t something we want our kids to do, it is a normal part of development. All children lie at different times, and it is, in fact, a sign that children are learning to understand how others think and feel. However, lying should be a concern when it becomes habitual—when a child lies often, and sometimes without obvious reason. This is what we call compulsive lying.

little boy with his nose growing because he is lying

When children lie compulsively it can leave us hurt, angry or frustrated, but worst of all, it will make it difficult for us to trust our children. As caregivers, we need to encourage HONESTY. Below are some tips for helping your child be more honest.

Humorously respond to their lie (e.g. You have the most amazing imagination in the world! I love how you think the shoes just magically opened up the drain and squeezed themselves to the bottom.).

Offer your child the opportunity to make amends by encouraging them to identify possible consequences of the lie, and solutions for these consequences (e.g. The shoes were dropped down the drain so I couldn’t wash the dishes. Can you think of a way we can get all the dishes done?).

Never call your child a liar, as negative labels can damage your child’s self-esteem. Instead, react calmly by speaking in a matter-of-fact manner (e.g. I agree with you that the drain cover was left open from the day before. But, I know that your dad or brother didn’t pick up the shoes from the shoe rack and put them down the drain. I want you to think for a minute and then start again and tell me what happened.).

Emphasise when your child owns up to doing something wrong by praising them for being honest (e.g. Thank you for telling me that you didn’t eat your lunch because the sandwich was too soggy. I know it can be scary to tell the truth so I really appreciate it when you’re honest. Now let’s work out how to make sandwiches that aren’t soggy!).

Spell out acceptable and unacceptable behaviours in your family and their consequences (e.g. lying will result in having privileges taken away or doing extra chores).

Tell your child how it makes you feel when they lie to you (e.g. When I hear lies it makes me feel sad), how it affects your relationship with them (e.g. I feel like it affects my ability to trust what you say and that really upsets me because we need to trust each other), and what it might be like if the family stops trusting the child (e.g. I really don’t want it to get to a point when you’re telling the truth and nobody believes you and then your privileges are taken away unfairly. I imagine that would be very frustrating for you). Tell stories from your own life or experiences of other people (children or adults) that you know who have lied and the consequences they faced as a result. Alternatively, you can read story books to chat about lying (e.g. The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Boy who Cried Wolf, Pinocchio and Ananias and Sapphira from the Bible). Refer to the visual below to discuss with your child what consequences the people who lied had to face and why these were negative.

You need to play detective to try to understand why your child feels the need to lie (e.g. to brag, to get attention, because telling the truth is too difficult, or to avoid the consequence they think they will receive) and develop a plan to address them. Refer to the visual below to discuss with your child the reasons people lie as a springboard to help you determine what may apply to your child.

Positive Behaviour Support Resources and Services

Everything parents, educators and professionals need to help children of all ages learn positive ways of behaving and managing emotions so that they can be happier, healthier and reach their full potential.

Behaviour Help is a registered NDIS provider.

Ask Dolly

Since you’re here, you probably have questions and concerns. I am Dolly Bhargava, am here to help. I am a NDIS registered behaviour support practitioner and speech pathologist.

I have worked in a number of settings for over 21 years so, how can I help?

Please tell me what is worrying you right now and I will do my best to recommend resources and/or services that will be most useful to you in your situation.

Meet Dolly Bhargava, profile picture