Dear Sarah: Lying

Dear Sarah,

My daughter is only 7 and already she has started lying to me about things. Most recently she told me she had brushed her teeth but I know that she didn’t. I don’t know what to do.


Panicked Parent

Dear PP,

Many children experiment with lying and many grow out of it, so try not to panic! There are many things that we can do as parents to encourage honesty and integrity. I will also suggest things that we can try to avoid doing.

My advice:

  1. First, we can check ourselves to see what we are modeling about lying and honesty. If your child hears you telling even “little lies” like “Tell her I’m not home.” it sends the message that lying is ok. Instead, find a version of the truth that still gets your need met, such as “Tell her I’m not available right now.”
  2. When you know that your child is lying, don’t try to trap her by asking a question that you already know the answer to. Go at it directly saying “That doesn’t sound true to me.” or “That’s not what I saw.”
  3. Avoid, at all costs, calling your child a liar. Young children believe what their parents tell them, so if you label her a liar she is more likely to become one, and remain one. Describe the behavior, not the child.
  4. Don’t try to force the truth out of her in that moment. Raising an honest child is a marathon, not a sprint. Instead, state a value and a feeling such as, “It’s important to me that we have an honest relationship, so I feel angry (worried, uncomfortable, etc) when you tell me something that isn’t true.”
  5. Allow them to experience the discomfort of having lied to you. For many children, simply discussing your displeasure for a few minutes will be uncomfortable, and that is good. Later, in a quiet and connected moment, discuss how it can feel “confusing/scary/bad inside” for the person who tells the lie. None of us feel our best when we are lying.
  6. Point them in the right direction and let them know how they can repair this damage to your trust. For instance, “You can make this better by brushing your teeth right now and by telling me the truth in the future.” A larger breach of trust will involve a longer, more involved process! At older ages the process is more involved as well, perhaps a topic for another column…

Thanks so much for sharing your story. Being our most honest and authentic selves can be a lifelong project, so take heart! Your child, like the rest of us, is a work in progress.




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Sarah read her first parenting book when she was 13 years old. She loved babysitting in high school. In her twenties, she taught at an after-school program so that she could practice on other peoples’ kids before having her own. She was often heard saying, “I am so lucky! I get paid to play kickball and teach kids how to resolve their conflicts!” By age 25, she was the Director of that same program, developing workshops for her staff on how to work more effectively and respectfully with children.

Sarah is currently a parenting consultant/psychotherapist in private practice in Northampton, MA. She offers parenting consultations, support groups, couples counseling and individual therapy, and she has brought her workshops to parents and educators all over New England and beyond. As Sarah rounds the corner toward 50, she still feels lucky every day to be doing the work that she loves.

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