Liar, liar, pants on fire

This evening, our family dinner conversation was largely taken up with an argument about the existence of a book called Charlie and the Chocolate Palace. The grown-ups knew that no such book exists. “Sweetie, you must be mistaken. That’s part of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” However, my six-year-old kept insisting. “NO! I’m not lying! This is a DIFFERENT book!” All of us got way too invested in sorting out this argument.

The more we pushed, the more the story grew more unbelievable: it’s so amazing, yes, it’s at his school… in the library… but we can’t read it… because it’s full of bad words… so sorry.

Sometimes he would stop and admit that it was untrue, only to launch into another tall tale.

liar liar pants on fire behaviour kids
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How should parents react when kids lie?

My husband and I looked at each other. Sure, it was just a little thing, but this was starting to become a habit. We worried that we were letting him get away with dishonesty. We wanted to make sure he understood right from wrong, and the importance of personal integrity. We felt ridiculous pretending that this imaginary book was real. We worried that he would get in the habit of lying for fun, and we wouldn’t be able to trust him.

On the other hand, we couldn’t convince him to stick with the truth, and our furrowed brows and warnings about “crying wolf” didn’t seem to sink in. We realized that most children do lie, for all sorts of reasons, and the more we pressured, the harder it would be for him to come clean.

Why do kids lie?

There is no one single reason why a child lies, and that’s what makes it so hard to react! Any of these factors could make a difference

  • age
  • language skills
  • ability to understand someone else’s point of view
  • imagination
  • intelligence
  • anxiety
  • moral reasoning
  • ability to delay gratification

Sometimes, telling the truth can be scary (“What if I get in trouble?”) Telling the truth might lead to disappointment (“What if I don’t get my bedtime story?”) Telling the truth could even just be boring (“Wow, they are really interested in THIS story!”)

We took a guess. Maybe this kid is enjoying the debate, the attention, and the creativity?

watercolour boy
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Lying on purpose

My husband came up with a bright idea: “We love your stories. Just tell us when it’s a story, and we will enjoy it more.”

I added a twist: “And we can tell it together! One. Word. At. A. Time.”

My husband and I demonstrated how to build a story word by word, and my son jumped right in.

Here’s an example of one I did with my son:
“Once. upon. a. time. there. was. a. crazy. clown. who. was. so. funny. that. he. decided. to. be. serious.”

For the rest of the evening, my son and his dad went back and forth, composing outlandish stories about ninjas, pirates, and rabbits. They were hooked. My son had found a way to be creative and imaginative, while getting plenty of positive attention!

When my son started to lie, we tried to control it. To be honest, we argued, warned, and even ignored. We probably guilt-tripped him too. It’s so tempting to jump right to a negative approach. It’s hard to find the positive qualities that might be hiding behind challenging behaviour, but luckily, that was theday my husband looked at my son and saw a gifted story-teller, not a just a “liar.”

When my son had a chance to safely stretch the truth and use his imagination, we noticed less fabrication at other times in the day, so we kept playing the game as part of our bedtime routine.

Speaking of lying… here’s one way it can actually help bring your family closer together!

If you know a child who enjoys telling stories, and sometimes gets a little carried away with exaggeration or embellishment, this game can be a really beautiful way to give kids the chance to bring out their inner fiction writer.

More benefits of this game include:

  • pointing out the difference between truth and lies,
  • getting a chance to talk about your day, AND
  • listening carefully to all the details of your child’s day!

My friend Natalia shared this game with me, and she plays it with her family daily. Each family member has a chance to tell all about their day, with ONE lie hidden in the story. Everyone else must listen closely, and guess the lie! The game was originally called Porky Pies (British Rhyming Slang for “lies”) but in their house, their son changed the name to “Porcupines.” You can call it whatever you want, as long as you have fun playing it!

If you are having a hard time with lying, wondering:

  • how do I respond?
  • why is this happening?
  • what am I missing?

I’d love to hear your story!

Here’s a link to my super-simple calendar:

  1. Sign up for a free phone call
  2. Tell me your biggest struggles
  3. Find out what free resources might solve your problem, or get set up with 1-1 help!


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