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3 - 5yrs Clinic

Social skills

Why young children lie

Young children tell lies for different reasons. Sometimes it is because they have done something wrong and they do not want to be punished, at other times they are telling lies for fun, to exaggerate a story perhaps. How you react if your child’s lies will be important in how much of a habit fibbing becomes.

Why do children lie?

Very small children don’t tend to lie, they may be more likely to simply confuse reality with what they recall or imagine has happened. However, by the age of three or four years, a child can begin to understand what is right and what is wrong – even if their guidelines for these still come very much from their parents.

•  For fun

Some children create fantasy worlds either to add excitement to a story they are telling, because they enjoy imagining things or in order to play a joke on you or someone else. This kind of lying can be harmless, though you should tactfully challenge why your child has made these ideas up in case the intention is to confuse and upset another child. If it feels harmless enough, you can perhaps join in the fun of creating fantasy worlds to encourage silly flights of fancy that allow your child to share a joke rather than playing a prank.

•  To get out of trouble

If your suspect a lie has been told to avoid trouble, gently discuss the issue being lied about. If your child confesses to the lie or you know the lie has been told, explain why lying is wrong. Using moral right and wrong as a guide seems to help young children begin to understand the damage that lying can do. Just punishing the lies does not prove to be as effective, as shown in studies around this problem.

•  To get attention

If a child is lying in order to show off (claiming that his daddy is rich or that he has a big car, for example) then gently remind your child that this is still lying and not a good idea because it makes other children feel sad and less important. But also look at why your child might be feeling the need to make such claims – does he feel he is missing out on something or could there be an emotional upheaval he is going through that might make him feel the need to build himself up?

•  Behave as you would expect your child to

Even ‘white lies’ are still fibs in your child’s eyes so make sure your own behaviour is not settling a bad example.


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