How to Teach Children Not to Lie

Teaching children not to lie is necessary to avoid social and personal problems. Discover some basic guidelines in this regard.
How to Teach Children Not to Lie

Last update: 02 August, 2022

All children lie at some point in their lives, as this is part of their cognitive and social development. However, when lying becomes a habit, the repercussions can be severe. Teaching children not to lie and to be trustworthy is essential for them in order to function in the world and enjoy healthy relationships. And the sooner they learn this lesson, the greater their success will be.

Therefore, if you want to know how to teach a child not to lie, today, we’ll offer you some proposals.

Why do children lie?

Up to about six years of age, children have a hard time differentiating reality from fantasy. That’s why it’s common for them to exaggerate, idealize, or invent experiences without any malice or desire to deceive.

However, both at home and at school, it’s important for honesty to be encouraged and to help children incorporate this value into their list of highlights.

Lies (understood as those stories in which there’s awareness of deception) tend to increase in the transition stage to primary education. This is due to the greater cognitive development that children have at that age, but also to the expansion of their social circle. From this moment on, their interactions with others are more frequent and varied, so certain needs may be awakened for which lying seems to be useful.

But why do children lie? On the one hand, we can say that children lie to receive attention and recognition from their environment. Although it’s not a good decision in the long term, telling a fictitious story can be a temporary popularity boost with their peers.

On the other hand, a lie can arise to avoid certain unpleasant consequences. For example, by blaming a brother for breaking the toy, the child is spared the reprimand.

A little girl crossing her fingers behind her back.

How to teach a child not to lie?

Children’s first lies work as a test. Depending on the repercussions of these acts, they’ll choose to maintain them or to align themselves with sincerity. Therefore, the action of the parents is essential in order to encourage honesty and teach children not to lie.

If you don’t know how to act in order to teach little ones not to lie, here are some key guidelines.

It starts with you

There’s a basic concept of parenting and it’s that children don’t learn from what they’re told, but from what they observe in their adult role models. Therefore, avoid lying (especially to your child ), even if it’s white lies.

Don’t tell them that the treats are all gone simply because you don’t want them to keep eating. Be honest and explain your reasons. Also, don’t be dishonest with the people around you, as your children will end up imitating your behavior.

Don’t label the behavior

Finding out that your child is lying can make you feel offended and lead you to react without thinking.

One of the most frequent responses of parents in these cases is to accuse the child of being a liar. However, imposing such labels is painful and counterproductive.

Focus on the wrongness of the action, but criticize the child as a person. Otherwise, you may end up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and have your child adopt the role of the label you’ve assigned him.

Explain what the repercussions of lying are

Punishment isn’t the best way for minors to understand why they shouldn’t lie, as lying has serious consequences naturally. Therefore, you simply need to explain what they are.

Make it clear to him that if they deceive people, others will stop trusting them. Likewise, your colleagues may reject you and experience feelings of guilt and shame when discovered.

You can ask them how they feel when they lie and start the reflection there.

Reward sincerity

Positive reinforcement is more effective in the long term than punishment and much healthier for the emotional development of children. Therefore, instead of focusing solely on criticizing and sanctioning, set your sites on rewarding sincerity.

When your child assumes their mistakes and responsibility for their actions, express how much you appreciate their sincerity and praise their courage to speak the truth. This will make you want to be more honest in the future.

Check your educational style

As we’ve said, lying is used to avoid unpleasant consequences and this occurs more frequently in the most restrictive and authoritarian styles of education.

If you’re too demanding, critical, and harsh with your child, they’ll be afraid to confess their mistakes and will choose to hide them. On the other hand, if you appeal to understanding and accompaniment, it’ll be easier for them to tell the truth.

A mother scolding her young daughter.

Promote self-esteem

Lastly, it’s essential that you make sure you build strong and solid self-esteem in your child. This way, they won’t need to resort to lies or inventions in order to feel valuable and sufficient, nor will they be so dependent on attention and external approval.

Raising children with values is a benefit for life

As you can see, teaching a child not to lie isn’t something you can do overnight and requires implementing clear and consistent guidelines for action.

By instilling honesty in your child, you avoid future social and personal problems. Starts from childhood in order to make learning easier and more natural.

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  • Popliger, M., Talwar, V., & Crossman, A. (2011). Predictors of children’s prosocial lie-telling: Motivation, socialization variables, and moral understanding. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 110(3), 373–392. Disponible en: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2011.05.003
  • Talwar, V., Arruda, C., & Yachison, S. (2015). The effects of punishment and appeals for honesty on children’s truth-telling behavior. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 130, 209–217. Disponible en: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2014.09.011