The man pulled up next to us and told us he’d take us home. We just needed to get in the car. When we asked him our family password, he didn’t know it, so we threw a rock at the car and screamed, and he drove away.” My sister and I told that made-up story to our neighbor, who couldn’t believe we’d had such a dramatic afternoon in our tiny subdivision. Later that night, my mom hung up the phone and turned to us with a look that said, “You’d better fess up.”
We’d made the whole thing up in an attempt to impress the neighborhood kids with our bravery. My mom wasn’t impressed. I wish I could say that is the only lie I remember telling, but I have a decently long list. And now, I know my kids lie to me. All kids do, but not all lies are the same. Kids tell different kinds of lies for different reasons. Knowing the reason might reveal a need your child is struggling to express. Here are the 6 kinds of lies and how to deal with each.
1. Evasive Lies
I was so proud of the system I developed to help my sons keep track of their responsibilities. One completed chore or task at a time, I handed them marbles to fill their chore jar and eventually get a reward. Then the day came when I caught my older son moving marbles from his brother’s jar to his own. He denied it vehemently, but I knew he was guilty.
When kids tell evasive lies to avoid getting into trouble, moms have to deal with two offenses—the original one and the lie. Address the two separately and when things are calm, talk about how being honest in the first place would’ve led to a lighter punishment.
2. Grandiose Lies
If you’re married to a fisherman, you might be familiar with this kind of lie. “That bass was thiiiiis long,” and the one that got away seems to grow with every story retelling. I overheard my friend’s son tell his dad, “I hit three home runs today.” My friend furrowed her brow and whispered to me, “I was there. He struck out twice and walked once.”
Kids often tell grandiose lies to their friends, but they might try one on you occasionally to increase their sense of self-worth and get positive attention, so be sympathetic. When you’re reprimanding kids for lying, stay away from the word “liar” or language that pegs your kids as “bad,” and focus on the behavior instead. Then put in extra effort to spend time with them, or use language to remind them they’re amazing not for what they do but for who they are.
Kids often tell grandiose lies to their friends, but they might try one on you occasionally to increase their sense of self-worth and get positive attention, so be sympathetic.
3. Exploratory Lies
“Last night, after you tucked me in, my stuffed animals had a tea party and then we all went to the park to play hide and seek!” If you hear this from your child as she gulps down her Cheerios, be slow to correct her. Kids tell exploratory lies when they’re testing out new behaviors or just using their imaginations. There’s no malicious intent behind the lie, so keep the story going!
4. Guilt-Driven Lies
When your child forges your signature on a bad progress report because he knows you’ll lay into him for not studying, or worse, he does it because he thinks he’s let you down, it’s a guilt-driven lie. These lies can become compulsive if your child has overwhelming thoughts of guilt or shame, so if you see a pattern, work on building up your child’s self-worth and consider what messages you might be sending him.
5. Impulsive Lies
My nephew jumped off the couch and I heard my sister say, “Are you supposed to jump on the couch?” His immediate response was, “I didn’t!” It’s incredibly frustrating when your child lies about doing something you’ve literally just watched him do.
It’s impulsive behavior, and like any other impulse, we can work on it with self-control exercises or through games like Simon Says or Red Light Green Light. A child with ADHD might be particularly prone to impulsive lies, so remember to be patient!
6. Manipulative Lies
My friend’s daughter was in the nightly habit of saying she had a tummy ache to get out of having to clean up after dinner. Finally, after a couple of weeks and a lot of concern over her diet, my friend noticed her daughter smirk at a sibling after being released from the table.
Some of the lies kids tell are meant to get a reaction out of you, to control you, or to get a need met. Like any other discipline, you have to stand your ground and make sure your kids know lying won’t get them what they want.
This topic fascinated the iMOM Podcast team. Listen to the episode “Liar, Liar” here for more about the kinds of lies kids tell.
Which one of these lies kids tell comes out most frequently in your home?
ASK YOUR CHILD…
Why is lying wrong?