AUSTIN EDITION - COL Turn lies into teachable moments

Q: When do kids start lying?

A: Parenting would be a lot easier if our kids always told the truth, right? But, from a toddler's guilt and graham cracker-covered face, to a youngster's mischievous imaginary friend, to a teen's late-night alibis, our children's lies cause us hurt, worry and distrust.

Lying starts at about preschool age, when kids begin to think abstractly. Most preschoolers understand parents have expectations for them, prompting them to cover up actions that will meet with disapproval. Because kids at this age want to please others, their lies may be more wishful thinking than deceit. Furthermore, fact and fantasy can get confused at this stage. Preschoolers enjoy tall tales and might incorporate such stories into their realities.

School-age kids learn to use a variety of lies. Early lies generally focus on getting material benefits rather than social rewards. As children grow older, they begin using social lies to avoid punishment or protect others.

Teens tend to lie to cope with the stressful world of adolescence and to cover up choices they know are against their parents' values and house rules.


When you realize your child is lying, it is important to challenge the dishonesty and define the truth. With young children, parents should discuss the difference between make-believe and reality, lying and truth-telling, and why honesty is important. If your child tells you something far-fetched, you might say, "Let's think about that..." or "You'd probably enjoy things that way."

With older kids, use appropriate consequences; remain "firm and friendly." If an accident is obvious, don't ask whether it happened. Instead of demanding "Who did this?" try "I'm upset about this; please explain it to me." Make the conversation a discussion about what happened and why the child felt a need to lie rather than an interrogation.

Lying is rated as one of children's most distressing behaviors, but it is important to regard most lying as a part of growing up and a behavior that effective parents need to deal with. Young children are not very sophisticated when they lie. Older children tend to deny or exaggerate. Preteens and teens can be quite intentionally deceptive. Remember the 10-to-1 rule as a guideline: It is likely that a teen has been involved in a negative behavior 10 times to 1 admission of guilt to adults.

Unfortunately, human nature carries a liability for deceit. We do not love our children less when we are realistic about the temptations of dishonesty.

If you would like to talk about the challenges of raising children, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204. (Llame gratis a la Linea de Apoyo y Comprension Paterna al:I-877-434-9528).

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