Published on March 10, 2021

Parenting Tips from the Pros: How to Teach Children Not to Lie

Parenting Tips from the Pros: How to Teach Children Not to Lie

Do you want a teen who lies, deceives, and sneaks behind your back to get what they want? No, you probably don’t—neither do I. Lying is a habit that starts when they are young. Then, by the time they have become teenagers, they would be proficient in lying because of years of practice. It is far better to teach children not to lie and instill in them the habit of honestly while they are young. Their character is dependent on their ability to be transparent, honest, and an unwillingness to bend the truth. Lying is a habit, as is honesty.

Below are some tips on how to teach children not to lie and hopefully, prevent your child from developing deceptive behaviors.

Why Kids Lie

Kids lie for a variety of reasons. For young kids, it can start with fantasy. They may say to their classmate, “I sailed to Africa and back again last night.” We know this isn’t the truth, but their little friend may not know that this is a lie. The lie may have been said as an experiment to see if they can get away with making up things or to impress their friend.

Many children lie because they don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. They may have failed their math test and know that it will result in a grounding. There may be a birthday party they want to attend over the weekend, so they tell their parents they got a B on the math test rather than tell the truth and miss the party.

There other children who lie because they get a rush of excitement when they get others to believe things that are not true. This is not good. The addiction to this feeling can grow and cause their lies and deception to escalate over time. This type of lying can develop into compulsive lying.

Other kids lie because they are embarrassed. They may lie about what they got for Christmas or where they went on summer vacation because they are embarrassed by their reality. They may think that others will look at them as less than them because of their situation. Talk to your kids about this kind of lying. Let them know that they are not less than others regardless of their situation and lying will not make them feel better in the long run.

Other kids will lie to impress others. It’s not that they are embarrassed by their situation or life experiences. It may just be that they want to impress others. This is an attempt to build their self-esteem, but it is a futile attempt because it is built on lies. Talk to your kids about lying to make themselves look better. Discuss the reality of whether the lies help in the long run or if they can hurt them.


Below are some questions to consider asking your child if they are lying for attention or to make themselves look better.

  • If your friends find out the truth, do you think it will make it easier or harder for them to trust you in the future?
  • Why are you telling lies about your situation? What is it that you are trying to gain by lying? What are the risks if people find out that you are lying?

Kids are impulsive, so lies can be told out of impulsivity. Their pre-frontal cortex is not fully developed, which makes their behavior more impulsive. It won’t fully develop until approximately age 25 according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.[1] The prefrontal cortex controls decision-making and using good judgment. This lack of brain development inevitably causes poor judgment including lying.

Kids with ADHD have impulsive behaviors. Therefore, they can be more prone to lying. According to New Life New Outlook ADHD, that “in children, ADHD is often associated with impulsiveness, and this often includes lying. Habitual liars lie without forethought, and it is this impulsive behavior that can often be seen in those with ADHD.”[2]

1. Be the Model of Truth

One of the most effective ways to teach children not to lie is by serving as a good role model. Kids will model their parent’s or caregiver’s behaviors. If they see you telling lies regularly, they are going to grow up believing that this behavior is permissible. If a cashier hands you back the wrong change and you get an extra $20, do you give it back or do you keep it?

Your behavior speaks just as much as your words. If you keep the money and your child sees you doing this, they are going to believe that dishonesty is okay if it is beneficial. The right thing to do is to give the money back to the cashier and let them know that they made a mistake. Your child will see that honesty is the best policy.

Your children are also watching you. They are not only learning from you, but they are also learning about you. If you make a habit of lying, deceitful, and dishonest behavior, they will recognize this behavior as such eventually. If you care about what your children think of you and your character, then make a habit of being honest and truthful in your words and actions.

2. Talk About Brutal Honesty Versus Telling the Truth

“Your outfit is the ugliest thing I have ever seen.” It may be the truth, but does anyone need someone to say this to their face? Of course not. Just because you think something doesn’t mean it needs to be said.


Children need to learn the difference between brutal honesty that is not needed and telling the truth. If the information is going to hurt someone’s feelings and is not necessary, then it likely doesn’t need to be said. If your child doesn’t quite grasp this concept, then roleplay some scenarios and ask them what they should do in each situation.

Below are some examples.

  • If your friend got a really bad haircut, should you tell them it looks awful? Is this helpful truth-telling or brutal honesty?
  • If your grandma gives you a gift you don’t like, should you tell her it is the worst gift ever? What do you think you could say so that you aren’t lying (perhaps simply saying thank you for the gift)?
  • You see your older sister sneaking out of the house at midnight and she tells you not to tell on her. Your mom comes out of her bedroom and asks what the noise is all about so late at night. What do you tell your mom? What could happen to your sister (being out of the house in the middle of the night) if you don’t tell your mom the truth?

3. Have Consequences for Lying

You want to teach your children not to lie, even if it gets them in trouble. You must have consequences for deliberate lying, especially when it comes to telling the truth about things that may get them in trouble. Let them know that there are reduced consequences if they tell the truth.

In our home, my kids know that if they lie about what happened, then they get double the consequence. One consequence (one day of no tablet playtime) for the behavior and a second consequence for lying about it (two days of no tablet playtime). Sometimes, I have to remind them about the double consequence before I ask them about what happened. Kids are going to be more inclined to tell the truth if they know that lying will only make the situation worse for them in the long run.

4. Don’t Set Them Up to Lie

There are instances when it would be easy to set up a child to lie. This is like setting them up to fail. Again, lying is a habit, so help your child practice truth-telling and honesty. Provide ways and outs for them to tell the truth. Don’t back them into the corner and then call them out on being a liar. This does not help build good character in the long run.

If you know that your child came home after curfew because it was recorded by your doorbell or security system, then don’t pretend like you don’t know and then show them the proof to call them a liar as well. Sometimes, facing the consequences of their behavior is hard enough. They may think that they can avoid trouble if they think they can lie and get away with it.

Instead of cornering them, turn it around to a situation where you help them tell the truth, saying “you know we have cameras on the house that record the time people enter and exit the home, do you want to tell me what time you came home last night?” Saying it in a gentle tone and not a punitive tone can help prompt them to tell the truth. You want them to decide to tell the truth on their own.


This helps teach your children not to lie and creates a habit of truth-telling. When they tell you the truth, then you give them the consequence for breaking curfew. But you also let them know the additional consequence that would have been dealt with had they also lied about things.

5. Don’t Brand Your Child as a Liar

Another important way to teach your children not to lie is to not brand them as a liar. If you tell someone that they are something, eventually that is what they will become.

This statement is not true in all circumstances. My daughter won’t become a beautiful butterfly just because I say she is a beautiful butterfly day after day. However, she may emulate the graceful movements of a butterfly because she believes what I am telling her.

The same is true with the character traits that we assign to our children. If we tell our children they are hard workers, you will see that over time that this character develops more. If we point out every time they do a job that they are “a wonderful hard worker, one of the best you know,” you will see them try harder because they believe what you are telling them.

The words of a parent are powerful. If a parent tells their child that they are a liar and this label is affixed or branded on the child in their mind, then they will take it to heart. Not only can this affect their self-esteem, but they can also think that they are bad in some way. They may even go so far as to lie more to get it to work in their favor. If you have branded them as a liar, then they may think they can’t change that about themselves, so they would just use it to their benefit.

6. Reinforce Honesty With Praise

If you have called your child a liar, begin working to reverse this branding in their mind. Look for instances when they are being honest and truthful. Tell them that they are a good and honest kid. Do this over and over again to reinforce their positive truth-telling behaviors.

Use positive reinforcement by praising your child when they are honest, especially in difficult situations. If they did poorly on a test and they got a bad grade, then commend them for sharing the truth with you. Let the child know that you appreciate their honesty and now that you know the truth, you can help them before their next exam or get them some tutoring.


7. Let Them Know Everyone Makes Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes in life. Nobody is perfect. We need to let our children know that we don’t expect perfection from them. We want them to be honest when they make mistakes in life so we can help them through things. We can provide guidance and support when we know that help is needed from us.

Allow your child to tell the truth. Sometimes, kids have impulsive reactions and will lie before thinking. In these situations, you may say, “how about I give you ten minutes to think about things again, and then we will have this chat again?” Then, you can go back to the conversation in ten minutes and allow them to tell the truth—again, reminding them that if they tell the truth there are reduced consequences.

Final Thoughts

Lying is an inevitable part of social life, and your children will be exposed to this as a natural part of growing up. However, it is up to you as a parent to teach your children not to lie and instill in them the habit of honesty instead.

Create opportunities for truth-telling and honesty. It will help them establish these habits as a foundation for their character. Commend them for their honesty, especially when it is difficult for them to tell the truth.

More Practical Parenting Tips

Featured photo credit: Charlein Gracia via


[1] Bridges 2 Understanding: Maturation of the Prefrontal Cortex
[2] New Life New Outlook ADHD: Adult ADHD and Lying: What You Need to Know

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

How to Talk to Teens And Have Real Conversations can people change Can People Change When Changing Is So Difficult? How to Get Kids to Listen And Respect You 10 Best Podcasts For Kids to Enjoy While Learning at the Same Time 50 Single Mom Quotes On Staying Strong And Loving

Trending in Parenting

1 Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So) 2 How to Talk to Teens And Have Real Conversations 3 How to Teach Children About Respect When They’re Small 4 How to Get Kids to Listen And Respect You 5 Parallel Parenting vs Co-Parenting: How To Know Which Is Best For You?

Read Next


Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

In today’s chaotic world, having family time isn’t always easy. It can get pretty hard to coordinate schedules, especially if the family is large. Life demands that we work, attend school, nurture friendships, hobbies, etc. All of those things are extremely time-consuming and important—but so is spending time with your family.

Why is family time so important? Because we all need love and support, and a good, strong family can provide that regularly. For children, spending time with their family helps shape them into good, responsible adults, improve their mental health, and develop strong core values.

There are many positive effects of spending time with your family. My family and I, for instance (and this includes grandchildren as well), meet every Tuesday night for dinner and games. My older son and I take turns cooking. This gives all of us a chance to try some new recipes. After dinner, we play games. And without fail, they inspire competitiveness and laughter. As family night has evolved, the grandkids have invited their friends over as well, creating the need for more chairs but also expanding our circle of fun.

Aside from the obvious fun and games, there are other reasons why spending time with your family is paramount. In this article, I will provide you with multiple reasons why spending time with your family regularly is a win-win. And then, I will lay out some ways on how to do it.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important

Here are six reasons why it’s important to spend time with your family.

1. Provides the Opportunity to Bond

When you spend time together as a family—talking about your day, your highs, your lows—it fosters communication. As parents, it gives you the chance to listen to your children, to hear them out, to learn about what’s going on in their world. It also provides you with the opportunity to use life situations as teaching moments.

Before our Tuesday night dinner/game nights, my family used to see each other pretty regularly but not consistently, especially the grandkids. Our family night changed all that. Now, it’s guaranteed that the grandchildren, along with some of their friends, will be there. Not only do I get to find out what’s been happening in their lives, but they also get to know us better. It’s creating memories they can treasure forever, as well as modeling the Get-Together tradition for when they eventually have families of their own.


“Spending time partaking in everyday family leisure activities has been associated with greater emotional bonding within families.”[1]

2. Teaches the Value of Family

Taking the time to be with your family lets your children know they are valued—that spending time together is a priority. I know that in today’s world, both parents are busy as both usually working. What better way to let your children know they are loved than by carving out time each week to spend with them?

According to Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., “words like honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage are core to centuries of religious, philosophical, and family beliefs. Use them and others to express and reinforce your family values. Teach children the behaviors that flow from these principles. Use quotes to ignite meaningful dinner conversations and encourage kids to talk about these values.”[2]

3. Enhances Mental Well-Being

Spending that quality time together gives your children a safe platform in which to express themselves, ask questions about things that are bothering them, or talk about their day and things they’ve learned. I know that my 9-year old granddaughter can’t wait until it’s her turn to talk about her day. She usually goes on and on and has to be stopped to give everyone else a chance to talk about their goings-on.

“Research shows the quality of family relationships is more important than their size or composition. Whoever the family is made up of, they can build strong, positive relationships that promote wellbeing and support children and young people’s mental health.”[3]

For children, having the opportunity to seek advice from parents they trust—as well as being able to have a sounding board and help with problem-solving—is priceless. In addition, being able to voice their opinions and be heard—and to feel like what they have to say matters—is an esteem-builder. All of these can have a very impactful positive effect on their well-being.

4. Helps the Child Feel Loved

How do you think a child feels knowing their parents want to spend time with them—talking, sharing experiences, playing games, listening to them? It will make them feel as though they are important, and a child that feels important is happier and more apt to thrive. Setting aside chores or work to spend time with your children demonstrates that they’re essential—that they matter. What a gift to give your child!

“If a child has your undivided attention, it signals that they are loved and important to you. This can be further nurtured by experiencing joyful activities together, as it demonstrates that you want to spend time with your children over and above all of the daily demands.”[4]

5. Creates a Safe Environment

If you regularly spend time with your children, you are also creating an atmosphere of trust. The more trust they have, the more likely they are to share with you what’s going on in their world. As they get older, you’re going to want to know. Negative influences can show up at any time, but if you’ve always been there for your child, they are more apt to come to you and ask for your advice.

Spending time together generates familiarity and feelings of being supported. When a child feels safe and comfortable, they’re more likely to open up. This is one way to get to know your child and know what’s on their minds. Are they okay? Do they need your guidance? If so, how?

6. Reduces Stress

This is significant. We all suffer from stress at one point or another in our lives. Spending time with family helps alleviate that stress. It’s an opportunity to talk things out, get feedback, and maybe brainstorm for a solution to the problem that is causing the stress.

According to Brandy Drzymkowski, “During the holidays, your closest five people probably shifts to family and friends. You may even get to see loved ones who live far away. Good news! This can actually help lower your stress levels. Studies show ‘face-to-face interaction…counteracts the body’s defensive ‘fight-or-flight’ response.’ In other words, quality time spent with loved ones is nature’s stress reliever.”[5]

So, now that you know some of the benefits, what are some ideas for making family time happen?

How to Make Family Time Happen

Here are four things you can do to make family time happen and spend more time with them.

1. Family Dinners

This, as I said above, is a wonderful way to spend time together. While you’re having dinner, you have the chance to discuss things that are going on in your lives—the ups, the downs, and everywhere in between. It’s like having a buffer against life’s challenges.

Aside from that, eating dinner together has many additional benefits. Studies have shown that for kids who eat regularly with their families, there is less risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression.[6]


“Our belief in the ‘magic’ of family dinners is grounded in research on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular family meals.” It further states, “We recommend combining food, fun and conversation at mealtimes because those three ingredients are the recipe for a warm, positive family dinner—the type of environment that makes these scientifically proven benefits possible.”[7]

According to Parenting NI, “children and adolescents who spend more time with their parents are less likely to get involved in risky behavior. According to studies done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse via Arizona State University, teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco, nearly twice as likely to use alcohol and one and a half times more likely to use marijuana.”[8]

As you can see, there are multiple benefits to spending time with each other routinely. You can’t go wrong with this family activity.

2.  Regular Movie Nights

This is another fun event, although, from personal experience, I have to caution that choosing a movie that everyone wants to see is not easy. So, give yourselves plenty of time so you don’t spend two hours searching for a movie, and then end up watching no movie at all because the night is practically over. Try and choose a movie before the day, if possible.

Afterward, open it up for discussion. Ask questions pertinent to the movie. What do you think of ABC? Should they have done that? Would you have done something differently? There are so many questions you can ask to spark a conversation and keep the night going.

3. Game Night

This is another occasion for great fun. If you have a competitive spirit, it makes it even more fun. There are numerous games out there—Balderdash, Pictionary, Apples to Apples, Charades, to name a few—that can create fun havoc. All I can say is, on game nights, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s okay if you lose the game. The fun is in being together, laughing, debating, and having a good time.

In addition, “Playing board games is great for children for many reasons besides the obvious; it’s fun to play games! Age appropriate games can help children to think strategically, solve problems creatively, work on pattern recognition and build simple math skills. They also help children develop social skills such as following rules, taking turns, and graceful winning or losing. Additionally, a family game night provides an opportunity for children to bond with siblings, parents and family members as well as peers. It can promote tradition building and establish a fun routine.”[9]

So, go find your family a game and start having fun!


4. Sharing a Hobby

If you and one of your kids like to do the same things, do it more often. For example, my oldest son and his teenage son go on long bike rides together on the weekends. Not only do they get to exercise, but they also get to talk and look at beautiful sceneries. They’ve also incorporated cooking into their routine. They plan the meal, shop, and prepare—activities that bring them closer together.

Sharing a hobby is a great way to bring family members together. It bonds people in amazing ways. According to Alison Ratner Mayer, LICSW, “One of the easiest and most important ways to build a child’s self-esteem is to spend time with them doing something not only that they enjoy but something that you also enjoy. There is a special magic that happens between a parent and a child when they share a mutually beloved activity. It sends the message to the child that their parents are having fun, true, honest, real fun, with them.”[10]

Final Thoughts

Spending time with the family is an investment. It is an investment in the happiness, well-being, and security of that system. It can also serve as a way to break out of the daily rut and the constant worldly demands, while at the same time, building a strong family unit.

Even though it isn’t always easy to find the time, finding the time is key to staying close and to providing and receiving love and support. There is no greater gift than the gift of time. That’s what we all seem to be missing nowadays. So, in giving that gift consistently, everyone feels loved and appreciated.

The family that takes the time to interact regularly is typically happy. They know they are part of a tribe, and that’s essential in today’s chaotic world. To know that there are people whom you can count on—people who will have your back in times of need—is invaluable.

Now, go and plan something plan with your family, if you haven’t already.

Featured photo credit: Jimmy Dean via


[1] Pittsburgh Parent: Spending Time Together—Benefits of Family Time
[2] Roots of Action: Integrity: How Families Teach and Live Their Values
[3] Beyond Blue: Healthy Families
[4] Esperance Anglican Community School: The importance of family time
[5] Brandy Drzymkowski: Spending Time With Loved Ones Reduces Stress
[6] Harvard Graduate School of Education: Harvard EdCast: The Benefit of Family Mealtime
[7] The Family Dinner Project: BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNERS
[8] Parenting NI: The Importance of Spending Time Together
[9] WNY Children: Family Game Night- The Benefits of Game Play
[10] Child Therapy Boston: The Benefits of Sharing a Hobby With Your Child

Read Next