Real Talk

How Our Kids’ Ability to Lie Is Another Developmental Milestone We Can Work With

It’s bad for our kids to lie but they don’t do it because they spite us. In fact, it shows us something new!

If there’s one trigger behavior all parents have, it’s their kids lying to them. It doesn’t always have to be big ones; it can be small ones like not having breakfast, not brushing their teeth and, the like. We’re often quick to catch these things and the punishment is just as swift. Most of the time, we give them quite a verbal beatdown which unfortunately sometimes challenges them to become better liars.

So how can parents confront their kids who lie?

First, understand why people lie.

As parents, we’ve lived long enough to lie and be lied to. Our own parents probably told us their own set of lies and repackaged them as “white lies” — the lies that are good and acceptable (Hulpke, 2020).

Yet, growing up — we are taught that lying is bad. Unforgivable even.

So why still do it? We have all sorts of reasons because Life has all those crazy layers of context we need to navigate. Lying, telling the truth — the decision on whether to do one and the other is often influenced by the many things happening. Just like how we don’t tell dying people that their family refuses to see them when they ask, we don’t tell our kids who just failed an exam that we’re feeling like we lost an investment in their education. We lie, saying that they’ll get it next time when we don’t even know when that will be.

Kids and Lying: A sign of abstract thinking?

Kids are highly concrete with the way they think, usually processing virtues like kindness, loyalty, and the like with situations wherein they can see how people show it. They learn that kindness isn’t always offering a hand but letting people experience things as they are or that loyalty isn’t always saying “yes” to what that person wants. As they grow older, they start being able to “read the room,” which is why some of their lies become more plausible and believable (Dioni, 2022).

But where do they get the creativity to come up with these stories? Lawrence Kohlberg, a psychologist who dabbled in moral development, often says that kids — even when they reach adulthood — only reach the Conventional Stage, wherein their decisions are heavily influenced by what the environment sees as right or wrong. The more our kids are exposed to certain situations and contexts, the more ammunition they have for their imagination.

Why kids lie and hide things from their parents isn't always out of spite
Photo by Conikal on Unsplash

What can parents do if they catch their kids lying?

But that doesn’t mean we should shelter them. Being strict and restricting them from certain experiences not only challenges them to be better liars but better manipulators. Besides their curiosity overwhelming them, keeping them with us actually allows them to master a single pattern of behavior: ours. They’ll learn how to lie for our sake because they know we don’t approve.

They’ll also learn how to lie to protect themselves, eventually learning how to gaslight. Most of the time, people aren’t even aware that they do [gaslight]. It’s a reaction they’ve developed over the years especially when their own parents would punish them severely for even the smallest of lies.

So instead of giving into our feelings of betrayal, confront them quietly. Focus more on their intent rather than our feelings of betrayal. Our rage often stems from how ludicrous it sounds that our kids have to lie to us about things like not brushing their teeth or other things. However, confronting them quietly sends a clearer message to our kids: lying is still wrong, most especially to us. We are their parents; we are always on their side, most especially if they’ve messed up.

Remember, kids don’t lie to their parents out of spite.

In most situations, kids lie to their parents out of fear. Especially if they know just how angry we get, all the more they’ll hone that skill. Lying then becomes a tool of survival for them which is unfortunately used to protect themselves from losing us. They still have the impression that if they do something we disapprove of then, they lose that love. And for them, it’s something they can never get back.

It may sound crazy to us but that’s what kids think because they’re still learning that Love isn’t just something that vanishes in thin air. So when we do catch them in a lie, ask them quietly. It’s tempting to assert our dominance, especially for the more passionate personalities out there. But it’s worth asking ourselves: do our kids need someone who will hurt them over something they want to try our or do they need someone who will make sure that when they do try something they want they’ll be okay?

While it’s not easy to fight the trigger that lying has, but the more we do — the less distant our kids will be.


DIONI, M. (2022) Lie Detection: analysis of response latencies extracted from the audio of an interrogation.

Hulpke, J. F. (2020). To tell the truth sometimes it pays to lie. Journal of Applied Learning and Teaching3(2), 89-99.

More real talk about kids?

How to Talk to Your Kids About Toxic Family Relationships
Little Things That Can Overwhelm Kids and Why
How Parents Can Raise a Highly Sensitive Child

Shop for Modern Parenting's print issues through these platforms.
Download this month's Modern Parenting magazine digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]