When Your Toddlers Can’t Resist Lying

Toddler-aged children work hard to learn about the world around them. They are still getting to know themselves and figuring out how they fit into their world. During this time, it is not unusual for young children to experiment with different personalities to see what feels comfortable for them. Throughout this process, many toddlers lie on a regular basis which can become a concern for parents. There are many reasons that toddlers tell lies including the following:

  • Toddlers want to please adults. If a child spills juice at school or hits his brother while arguing at home, he may tell his teacher or mom that he did not do it because he does not want that individual to be angry with him. Toddlers do not realize that adults still know who is responsible for their actions even when they lie about them.
  • Toddlers cannot always differentiate between reality versus fantasy. Toddlers are not always sure what is real and what is not and easily confuse what happened with what they wish would have happened in a situation. This means that sometimes they tell lies not necessarily to deceive but to meet another need, such as getting people to like them or getting their parents to buy them a new toy.

Punishing toddlers for lying is not an appropriate response as it doesn't teach them how to change their behaviors. You can punish them for their behaviors i.e. hitting their siblings, telling someone to shut up but not their lies. They need to learn a sense of truth and to know that you will love them despite their flaws and the mistakes that they make. The following actions will help your toddler to stop lying:

  • Call children out on their actions. For example, if your little girl drew on the walls, you can say, “I know that you drew these pictures because I see marker on your hands.” People continue to do what works for them. If a child has learned that he gets special attention when he is naughty, you must create consequences to stop this behavior.
  • Avoid using the word liar. When you label a child a liar, you run the risk of that label and consequently that mode of behavior becoming identification for your child. You don't want your child to have to live with this label for years to come.
  • Stay calm. It is easy to lose your temper and yell or use harsh words when you are upset that your toddler lied. Approach the situation as calmly as possible. If you yell, your child is likely to yell back and the issue can escalate quickly. Remaining calm also establishes a precedent for addressing these type of situations that makes children more likely to tell the truth in the future.
  • Do not give children the option to say no. If you say, “Did you spill juice on the sofa?” the kid has the option to say no. Instead say, “I saw you spill your juice on purpose after I'd asked you to sit at the table and drink it. Now you need to go to your room for five minutes.
  • Be patient but consistent. You have to address lying all the time to get the message across to your toddler. There are times that it may be easy to let it slide such as while you're in public or while you have company but it just creates more confusion. Address all lies in all situations, no matter where you are and no matter how big or small the lie.
  • Find a happy medium. Kids lie when they live in a highly permissive or highly restrictive environment. It is critical to find a middle ground in which kids have an appropriate level of freedom. Look for ways to give your young child freedom, such as choosing her own clothes for school or letting her color independently at the kitchen table while you make dinner.
  • Practice what you preach. In order for toddlers to understand the importance of telling the truth, they must see you tell the truth. If you lie on a regular basis, even if it's just little white lies, they will not understand.

It is important to keep in mind that lying is a normal behavior during the toddler years. With the proper guidance, most toddlers grow out of it. When children learn that they are still loved, accepted and honored even though they are not perfect, they are much less likely to lie.


Dorothy Hastings

Dorothy Hastings is the Director of First School, which are three Preschool and child care centers located throughout Southern California. First School provides a hands-on approach to preschool education and child care programs that emphasizes all around child development. In addition to their intuitive academic approach, First School also focuses on developing a child's social skills and self-confidence, which is made possible in their intimate learning atmosphere.

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