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Lying: How to break the habit in children
Home » Parenting Advice » Lying: How to break the habit in children

by Laura Kelley, Crisis Counselor for the Boys Town National Hotline and the Nebraska Family Helpline, Mother of three boys

tags: Discipline, Parenting Skills, Understanding Behavior

Lying: How to break the habit in children

This post was first published on

Are you tired of calling your child out for lying? Does he or she lie with ease?

Lying usually starts at a very young age. Even a 2-year-old can be guilty of it. A simple question of “Do you need to go potty?” will be answered with a “no” if the last time she was whisked off to the bathroom left her without her toys for a few minutes.

Children are constantly testing what they can get away with. Kids both young and old will lie to get something they otherwise could not get if they told the truth. Here is how you help them break the habit.

Years ago, my 5-year-old son and I were at a friend’s home for a playdate. The two boys went downstairs to play. As I rounded the corner at the bottom of the stairs, there stood my friend’s son with a pencil in his hand and drawings all over the wall. He said he didn’t do it, but the eyes said it all. I called for my reinforcement – my friend – and questioned my son.

“Did you draw this on this wall?” I asked.

“No,” he answered.

I believed him, but also knew I should rephrase my question.

“Show me your drawings,” I said instead.

He then escorted me to the other side of the stairs where  his artwork was displayed. I was mortified. The cleanup began. A consequence was delivered. A clear expectation of what materials were appropriate to draw on was laid out.

This last piece is essential during consequence delivery. It’s the teaching part. Teach your child what is expected of them the next time you ask a question. Honesty includes not leaving vital information out.

It’s important to start the conversation about honesty in the primary years. Point out instances of when a cartoon character was not honest, or when one sibling admitted they started the fight. In their teen years, ask some real life questions about what is important. Questions can include “If you call in sick to work just so you can hang with friends, what could happen?” “If you lie on a college application, what could happen?” “If you lie about your whereabouts to us this weekend, what could happen?” They could lose a job, be denied admissions or lose the privilege of going out on weekends.

If you hear a lot of embellishing to make a story sound better, ask questions and find out why they are lying. They may be trying to fit in. Many teen lies strongly correlate with risky behaviors, such as substance use, sexual activity or activities that could put their own or other’s safety at risk. Address these lies immediately. The consequences you put in place may also be suitable safety plans, such as random drug testing or a substance abuse evaluation, loss of driving privileges or no over-nights again. Set expectations. Know that your consequences have to be something that motivates your child to not repeat the misbehavior again – and you have to be able to monitor the consequences.

Finally, practice honesty in your own life. Hand that $10 bill to the person in line who dropped it. Tell your daughter you accidentally broke her toy. Let your spouse know why you are really late. Young eyes are watching.

Laura Kelley, Crisis Counselor for the Boys Town National Hotline and the Nebraska Family Helpline, wrote this guest blog for She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and her Masters in Early Childhood. She is a former preschool teacher in the Omaha Community. She has three boys and lives with her husband of 25 years in Omaha.

Learn more about the Boys Town National Hotline  by clicking here.