Have you ever caught your toddler or preschooler telling a tall tale? You might find your child exaggerating stories or inventing things that just didn’t happen. When you catch your child in a lie, there are a few ways you can discourage this behavior.
Starting at around 3 years old, children learn to tell lies. They might lie to make a story more exciting, get attention, avoid getting in trouble, or get something they want. As they get older, children learn how to lie better, changing their facial expressions and tone of voice to be more convincing.
Once your child is around 3 years old and they can tell the difference between a truth and a lie, it’s a good time to talk to them about the importance of honesty. A great way to discourage lying is to give your child thoughtful praise when they tell the truth, especially if it was difficult for them to do so. Whenever you can, be honest with your child, as they’re likely to follow your behavior. Here are some more steps you can take to discourage lying:
Set consequences early. Before you catch your child in a lie, talk to them about how important it is to be honest, and tell them the consequences of lying. You’ll probably need to remind them of the consequences several times so they remember.
Redirect your child from harmless tall tales. If your child tells you an innocent, attention-seeking tall tale, like they saw a million gold butterflies at school, it might just be that their imagination got ahead of them. You can ask them some questions and see if they acknowledge the truth, or redirect them to another topic.
Talk to your child directly about any safety-related lies. If the lie is about something more serious, such as lying about what they’ve been doing or where they’ve been, try asking them some questions to get to the truth. You might have to repeat the questions more than once to get them to tell you the truth. Then remind them about the consequences of lying that you talked about earlier.
Apply the consequences you discussed earlier. For safety-related lies, applying consequences can be the best way to discourage that behavior in the future. You can remind them that even if they’re scared to tell the truth, being honest will always have fewer consequences than telling a lie.