How to Teach a Child Not to Lie

By Amy Sutton
Father talking to his son at the breakfast table.
Father talking to his son at the breakfast table.

Parents want to raise their children to be respectful, caring and honest adults. Some kids struggle with lying at some point though. Children may lie because they are worried about disappointing you or getting punished for something they did. It's your job as a parent to teach your child why this is wrong and how important it is to always tell the truth.

Talk About Honesty

Talk with children about the importance of honesty, starting when they are young. Up until age 6, they may not know the difference between fantasy and reality, but after 6 they are old enough to understand, notes HealthyChildren.org, the American Academy of Pediatrics' website. Explain to your children how honesty enables your family and friends to count on each other. Tell them that lying is harmful to long-term relationships because it breaks trust. After trust is broken, it can be difficult to regain it.

Good Role Models

Don't just tell your children to be honest, show them. Avoid lying to your child, even if it's uncomfortable to provide a response to a question, the Psychology Today website suggests. Just keep it age appropriate and brief. Make your home a truthful, open space where everyone is comfortable with being honest and secrets are not allowed. It's also important to be honest to others in front of children, to avoid confusing them.

Reward Honesty

Offer your children praise when they are honest with you. Tell them you know how hard it can be sometimes to tell the truth and that you're very proud of them for doing the right thing. Give them a hug or a pat on the back.

When Your Child Lies

Keep calm when you catch your child in a lie. Never call your child a liar, the BabyCenter website warns. Ask the child why she felt she needed to lie to you. Then ask her what a better choice might have been. Tell your child that lying is not allowed and while you're disappointed in her actions, you still love her. If your child has begun to lie regularly, you may need to seek outside help, such as a mental-health professional or counselor, suggests the HealthyChildren.org website.

Helpful Reading

Read stories to your young children that talk about lying and why you should always tell the truth. Examples for children in second grade or younger include "The Berenstain Bears and the Truth" by Stan and Jan Berenstain, "To Tell the Truth" by Patti Farmer, and "Franklin Fibs" by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark.

Your older kids, in third through fifth grade, can read stories like "The Empty Pot" by Demi, "The Summer My Father was Ten" by Pat Brisson, "Honest Abe" by Edith Kunhardt or "Liar, Liar Pants on Fire" by Gordon Korman.