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

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Published on May 7, 2021

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

From coaching martial arts to children as young as four years old, I very quickly came to the understanding that if I wanted to help kids progress their skills, I needed to find a way to help them focus more consistently in my class.

There are two key ways I found when it came to improving my students’ level of focus:

  1. Make what we’re doing more interesting. Nothing is off the table here—from having ninja clowns on the rampage in a lesson to including popular games with a martial arts theme, tapping into the student’s love of fun to help them focus.
  2. Introduce brain breaks.

Brain breaks are small mental breaks that help the kids stay more focused. Think of the brain as a fuel gauge that shows the information you can consciously hold in your mind at any given moment. When the kids are focused and working hard on their tasks, the meter is usually full. They can easily concentrate and pass experiences into their long-term memory.

But when the needle starts to drop, you may observe that your kids are feeling anxious or looking restless. New information, experiences, and knowledge are not getting processed from the staging area or working memory into the long-term memory.[1]

It’s here that brain breaks make the most difference, as they allow us to “top-up the tank” or reset the gauge so that we can continue to learn and focus and at a higher level.

If you’ve been home tutoring, you’ll appreciate that brain breaks can help kids in many ways. They can reduce stress and frustration. Think of those times when you’re helping your kids solve a difficult problem. It’s taxing for you both and when compounded with the energy loss after a day at school or watching TV. The stress effect can be compounded, and it’s here that brain breaks can be a lifesaver.[2]

The following is a selection of brain break ideas for kids. You’ll see that some are physical activities while others are more relaxing. It’s always great to test them out to see which ones connect the best with your children.

It’s okay to repeat the same brain breaks. Having a clear name and mission to a break can help keep your child excited, knowing that they’ll have the opportunity to take part in a future round of the activity.


Active Brain Breaks

Here are some active brain breaks for kids that you can try out.

1. Swapsies

Have the participants stand behind a chair. Call out a character trait, like “everyone with brown eyes.” You then swap places with someone else who has the same characteristic. If you have nothing that matches, you stay put!

Examples: “Everyone with trainers on.” “Everyone who is left-handed.” “Everyone who is wearing yellow.”

2. Dance Party

Put five or six different types of songs on Spotify, including a classic like “baby shark or the hamster dance.” Dim the lights if possible and have the kids dance to the tunes. Then, change the tunes and change the dance style. It’s silly and fun.

3. Freeze Dance

Similar to Dance Party except that when the music stops, students have to stay perfectly still until the music restarts. You can make this even more fun by trying to make the students smile. If they smile, they are out and have to sit down.

4. Keep It Up

Students must keep a balloon from touching the floor. You can add multiple balloons. You can make it more competitive by having different balloons of two different colors and split people into teams. Whoever keeps the balloons up the longest or the team with the most balloons in the air with a timer of 60 seconds wins.

5. Simon Says

This brain break for kids is an old favorite. You can also mix it up with martial arts moves, Fortnite dances, superhero moves, etc.

6. Animal Movement

Move like different animals. It’s fun for younger children. We use Flamingo where you stand on one leg, crawl like a bear, stand like a meerkat, run like a cheetah, and walk like a penguin.


7. Find It Fast

“Find It Fast” is a scavenger hunt variation. Call an item out in the room and kids have to stand by it. For example, find a clock, find something with a face, find something smelly, find some money, find a phone, etc.

8. The Frog

Physical Challenges can be excellent fun. We have one in the martial arts class called “The Frog” where you squat like a frog, then lean forward so your head and feet are off the floor. These are all old yoga poses, so have a look through a booklet or website for some safe ideas. Other examples are grabbing your nose with your left hand and touching your knee with your right elbow.

9. Pizza Delivery Time

Give the students paper plates and tell them to hold the plates above their head on a flat hand. They then run around the room and try to keep the plate in their hand. You can make it more challenging by having other students try to knock others’ plates off. There’s usually a 3-star jump penalty if your plate touches the floor.

10. Limbo

We use martial arts belts and the students take turns going underneath the belts. Fun music creates an awesome atmosphere here.

11. Human Knot

Split the group of people and have everyone link hands under and over. That’s making knots between everyone in the group. Have the other students try to untangle them and return everyone back into a circle.

12. Feather Balance

This brain break for kids works well with gentle music, and you can use a balloon or a straw if you don’t have a feather handy.

13. Stack them high

The students should have plastic cups and paper squares. The goal is to make a tower as high as possible, or it could be to make a triangle or even a pyramid.

Relaxing Brain Breaks

We talked about brain breaks for kids that are being used to energize the students. But they can also be used to calm and relax them. We’re more familiar with the term mindfulness, but it’s the same idea. These are brain breaks for kids that reduce stress and anxiety.


14. Meditation


is a popular way to reduce anxiety. There are lots of great examples already pre-recorded on YouTube that you can follow along with. Below is a useful classroom meditation example.

15. Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscopes are fun ways to relax. They are mesmerizing and like a peaceful vortex that sucks you into them. Below is a great example of a visual online one you can use.

16. Reading/Listening to a Story

When I surveyed the members of our martial arts club about how their kids employ brain breaks at home, there was a clear winner among the families—listening to a story or reading a story. The feedback was that the process of daydreaming a little helps the kids to recharge. But it goes without saying that the story needs to be engaging.

17. Doodling

My personal favorite way to brain break as a kid was to doodle. Doodling gives your child a few minutes to draw anything they want. It can be calming for them, and it’s a lot more fun if you have different types of pens or crayons available to use. Add some soft music, and you have a simple way to take some time to relax.

18. Coloring Sheets

Coloring sheets are another way to relax the mind. There’s lots of great coloring in pads available, but here are some links to public resources shared on the internet that are great examples.

19. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing

is an epic way to help your child slow down. It is a quick way to relieve anxiety so that they feel more ready for the next task ahead.


Try this: put your hands on your tummy, breathe in through the nose, and feel your belly expand like a balloon. Hold it here, then slowly breathe out through the mouth while feeling your stomach get smaller. Repeat this 10 times. Use the following counts: breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and breath out for 4 seconds.

20. Going Outside

Go outside was the second most popular response from our parent’s survey about brain breaks for kids at home. Fresh air always feels nice. You can combine this with a treasure hunt, looking for different colored cars, types of birds, or even types of trees, if you’re familiar with these.

My personal favorite is using a mushroom spotting app on our phones and finding a mushroom or toadstool, then using the app to identify its name. This is surprisingly engaging for children. But a few safety rules about not touching them is important. It gives kids a change of scenery and helps revitalize the senses, providing a welcome break from their homework.

How Often Should You Introduce Brain Breaks?

The key to brain breaks is their timing. If you can introduce them before you notice that your kids are entering deep fatigue or their loss of focus has set in. You’ll find a great balance between breaks and effort.

I’ve observed from my martial arts coaching that younger students have a smaller amount of working memory than older kids. My formula is for five minutes of technical training, we provide five minutes of brain breaks for students under seven years old. Plus, we coach to 15 minutes of training to five minutes of brain breaks for children under 12 years.

Final Thoughts

Implementing calming brain breaks for kids is a really efficient way of introducing brain breaks. You have a quick way to allow your students to learn about regulating themselves. Balancing their mind and energy is a useful skill, and you can take this with you everywhere you go.

Our martial arts center revolutionized our approach to coaching by using brain breaks for kids. We found that although we were teaching less technical skills, there was now consistent progress from the students. Plus, everyone was less anxious, happier, and are having more fun. This is a win overall.

If you’ve been having challenges with your kids focusing at home, maybe try a mixture of the calming and active breaks to see which types work best for your kids.

Featured photo credit: Robert Collins via


[1] SimplyPsychology: Working Memory Model
[2] Kids Need Brain Breaks — And So Do Adults

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