Why do children lie?

Why do children lie?

Children can start to lie from around 3 (Raising Children Network, 2022), and studies suggest that the tendency to lie increases with age (Evans & Lee, 2013). While lying is often seen in a bad light, it is a normal behaviour in children. In fact, sometimes it may mean that the child has hit a developmental milestone, as it is a behaviour associated with cognitive and social development (Talwar & Lee, 2008) .

Unable to differentiate 

Children can lie for a variety of reasons, and it does not always need to be a cause for concern. For example, preschoolers may not be able to discern the boundaries between reality and fantasy, so their “lies” may not be deliberate (Bright Horizons, 2021) . Some may have yet to grasp the concepts of “truths” and “lies”, and hence, do not know that they are lying, and that the behaviour is undesirable. After learning to lie, children may even attempt to experiment with their new skill (Raising Children Network, 2022).

In other situations, children may lie to bolster their self-esteem, to seek attention, or to raise their social status. They can falsely claim to have special experiences, own certain toys, or to know important people. They may also lie to avoid punishment, as a form of self-protection.

Preschoolers are known to tell prosocial lies (white lies) as well. They may claim to have seen something, such as an anaconda when they really have not in person. However, like adults, they tend to view these lies less negatively (Xu et al., 2011).

Lying becomes a cause for concern when the action is excessive, deliberate, without reason, or used to manipulate others. The context in which lying occurs is another consideration. During play or leisure time, it is not uncommon for preschooler to speak in an exaggerated manner. However, in other situations like during conflicts, we may want to take lying more seriously.  

So how can we better manage such behaviour in children?

1. Communicate & find out why they lie 

Communication is critical. Talk to your child about the concepts of lying and being truthful. When they do lie, instead of focusing on the lie, find out what is the incentive and motivation behind it, and react accordingly. For example, if your child lied because he/she is jealous of a sibling, we may want to reflect as parents and provide assurance where appropriate. 

2. Stay calm and use positive reinforcement

We believe and respect that children are able to understand and reason even though they are little beings. Hence, our recommendation would be to encourage children to tell the truth by communicating the consequences to them in a calm and collected manner. 

Punishing or shouting at your child for lying may just have the opposite effect. Children can resort to lying more frequently in the future in fear of such punishments. If voices are raised and punishment dished out in certain situations, do remember to follow-up with a talk-through to reconcile trust and relationships. 

3. Be a role-model to your preschooler

You yourself can be a powerful lesson for your child. Help your child to learn by exhibiting the values you wish to inculcate in your everyday life. If you wish for your child to be honest, start by being a good role-model.

4. Discuss about behaviour and virtues regularly

We can address lying even if it did not actually happen. Plentiful stories are available revolving around honesty-themed are great to embed into daily bedtime routines. 

Honesty is a virtue, and it is understandable when you are alarmed the moment you realized that your child has started lying. Our personal approach would be to address it through a genuine conversation with your little one, and reflect how we can remove the motivation to lie. 




Evans, A. D., & Lee, K. (2013). Emergence of lying in very young children. Developmental Psychology, 49(10), 1958–1963. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031409 

Talwar, V., & Lee, K. (2008). Social and cognitive correlates of Childrens lying behavior. Child Development, 79(4), 866–881. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01164.x 

Bright Horizons. (2021, May 15). Why do children lie? understanding child behavior & how to respond. Bright Horizons. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/why-children-lie-and-how-to-respond#:~:text=Young%20children%20with%20active%20imaginations,do%20something%20less%20than%20honest. 

Raising Children Network. (2022, February 28). Lies: Why children lie and what to do. Raising Children Network. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://raisingchildren.net.au/preschoolers/behaviour/common-concerns/lies 

Xu, F., Bao, X., Fu, G., Talwar, V., & Lee, K. (2011). Lying and truth-telling in children: From concept to action. Child Development, 81(2), 581–596. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01417.x 

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