The Truth About Lying

After the Truth Comes Out

child stealing cookie

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When your child purposefully lies to you, it can feel like a slap in the face. However, his dishonesty doesn't mean that he's a bad kid or that you're falling short as a parent, so it's important that you avoid overreacting.

Forgive Toddler Fantasies. A young child's lies are often just wishful thinking. "If your kid says, 'There's a pony in the backyard,' smile and say, 'Wouldn't that be fun?' and then move on," says Elizabeth Berger, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids With Character.

Tone Down the Accusations. If your child refuses to be honest about an incident, avoid an inquisition. "Very few people will fess up to a lie when they feel pressed, and that includes kids," says Jennifer Kolari, author of Connected Parenting: Transform Your Challenging Child and Build Loving Bonds for Life. Instead, you can say, "I love you, and I want to understand what happened, but some parts of your story aren't making a lot of sense to me. Why don't you take a little time to think about it some more, and then we can talk again." Sooner or later, he'll probably reveal the truth.

Teach The Art Of An Apology. Let your child know that he can make amends for his dishonesty with a simple, "I'm sorry, Mommy." A lie, after all, is merely a mistake. So when he expresses genuine remorse, it's your job to display compassion and forgiveness in return. "With this approach, there's a great chance that you'll raise a reasonably truthful and responsible child," says Zirkel. You'll notice she said "reasonably." Hey, at least she's being honest.

When the Truth Hurts

By the time your child is a preschooler, you can start teaching him how to be honest without being hurtful toward others. "A gracious tone and a smile go a long way toward accomplishing that," says Louise Elerding, author of the You've Got Manners! book series for kids. Be prepared to practice appropriate responses for different scenarios at home so your child knows how to handle them in real life.

Your child receives a disappointing birthday gift.

What she's tempted to say "This isn't what I wanted!"

Tactful alternative "Thank you."

Parent pointers Before gift day, take turns giving random items to each other and then showing your appreciation. When she hands you an old toy, say, "Thanks. How nice of you to think of me." Then have her try it. For a school-age child, challenge her to find something positive (and also truthful) to say about the present, whether it's a banana ("Yellow is a very cheery color") or one of Daddy's ratty old sweaters ("Wow, it feels soft against my skin").

You're having dinner at a friend's house, and your kid is a picky eater.

What he's tempted to say "Yuck. That food looks gross!"

Tactful alternative "No, thank you."

Parent pointers If the offending food has already been dished out, tell your child to say nothing at all -- and refrain from making a sour face. Quietly suggest that he take one bite or simply eat other things on his plate. You might also ask your friend ahead of time if you can bring some fruit or yogurt to be sure there's at least one thing he'll like.

Another preschooler invites yours over for a playdate, but she doesn't want to go.

What she's tempted to say "I don't like playing with you."

Tactful alternative "I have to ask my mommy."

Parent pointers This gives you a chance to find out what really bothers her about the other child -- and help her come up with a polite way to decline the offer.

Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Parents magazine.

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