Children Lies: how should I behave?

January 23, 2024

All of us, at some point in our lives, come into contact with children lies and often do not know how to deal with it until it becomes a chronic problem.

In this article, we look together at what is important to know and how to intervene.

Let’s start with the actual definition of the term “lies” from the dictionary:

“False statement, intentionally made to mislead others, or to conceal one’s own fault, to exalt oneself.”

Lies do not belong to a specific stage of human growth: in fact, already from early childhood children tell their first small lies and experience how, by telling a lie, they often succeed in getting what they want from the parent. Is this manipulation? Yes, like any communication between human beings.

As they grow up, the lies change: they become more important, and in most cases, none of the lies serve to make the teller or the sufferer feel better.

When does a child start telling lies?

Children start lying when they want something that mom and dad do not want to give them, or when they do not want to do something that their parents or teachers would like them to do instead. When the child does not want to listen.

In other cases, children lie to avoid hearing yet another scolding or getting the usual spanking from their parents. Lying is a physiological transition of growing up; children tell lies and adults tell lies.

If we were to identify an age when child lying begins, we can say that it is roughly around age 4. The first form of lie that the child tells is a “no” when he would like to say “yes.”

Why do children lies?

The truth is that children lie because they need to experiment.

If you may be wondering what they need to experience by telling lies, it is simple: children’s lies serve to make them realize that they can deceive their mind first and the person in front of them second. They are also trying to play around with emotions.

A child is amazed at the effect of lies: he can think something, say the opposite, and convince his mother by saying something that is not true.

But the even better thing is that the mother cannot read the child’s mind, at least not physically and with certainty, and so the child discovers that he or she is a separate entity from the mother and especially that he or she can keep some things to himself or herself without sharing them with others.

So if we were to say why children lie, we can say that they do it because it is a normal part of their growth and from a certain point of view it allows them to know their individuality.

Lying is also enacted by children with low self-esteem in order not to disappoint the expectations others have of them.

But again, lying is not only used to make the child feel protected from others’ judgment or possible repercussions, lying is also used to protect others, for example, to protect a friend in trouble.

How can one tell that they are telling lies?

Unfortunately, there is no crystal ball.

There is no absolute certainty – at least on some topics of the lie – but there are little things to pay attention to.

Child observation is so important, getting to know your child to see if he or she is putting something in place to manipulate us.

If your child, for example, reports two different versions when told to mom or dad, it means that most likely one of the two versions is a lie.

The child has realized that parents have different points of view and therefore tells lies to the parent who is more easily angered or the less permissive one.

Already between the ages of 4 and 6, the child tells lies not by mistake but to willfully deceive his interlocutor.

Always confronting the partner allows us to compare the child’s versions and understand whether, at a specific time he told any lies.

How to deal with a lying child?

Thinking of intervening on the “symptom” i.e., the lie, is a losing investment. If the child is lying (unless it is an isolated case) the problem is probably structural.

At that point, after explaining to the child that it is easy to notice when someone tells lies, you explain to him in suitable language that this does not allow your relationships to work.

All this must be done without blackmail, even mild blackmail, and without any kind of violence, even verbal violence. The child must understand; he must not be afraid.

Having done this, you must then think about your educational model and try to understand, together, where there is something that can be tweaked.

Very often it is adults who lie to children because they do not want to tell them the truth thinking they are doing good: the typical “white lie” example comes to mind where the parent hides the vegetables on the plate and tells the child they are not there (although this is not a good habit and risks making mealtime difficult).

It seems like a minor behavior, but it puts a label on reality as “unreliable” and as “not matching the words.” Not a good place to start.

How to teach children to tell the truth.

When you want your child to express a certain kind of behavior, there is no better way than to show him or her continuously and everywhere. Not just as a matter of imitation, but simply because there is much more hidden information within an action than within simple sentences and words.

We also perceive and learn what is “unseen,” and so does the child, without even knowing it. The bulk of our learning happens by experience and imitation; you can’t expect your child to do otherwise.

We are with you.

To create an effective educational method you first need consistency of both parents and a clarity of purpose and rules. Then, together, you need to do work on all family communication and the relationships between family members. We can help you with our courses and consultancies if you wish to fix it.

Remember that telling lies is a normal thing, but it can be fixed.


1. Talwar V, Lee K. Social and cognitive correlates of children’s lying behavior. Child Dev. 2008 Jul-Aug;79(4):866-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01164.x. PMID: 18717895; PMCID: PMC3483871.
2. Evans AD, Lee K. Emergence of lying in very young children. Dev Psychol. 2013 Oct;49(10):1958-63. doi: 10.1037/a0031409. Epub 2013 Jan 7. PMID: 23294150; PMCID: PMC3788848.
Articolo aggiornato il 22 Novembre 2023.

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.