Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

With Washington’s Birthday here, parents frequently ask me whether they should worry about their child telling lies. I cannot tell a lie about this topic, so let’s talk the truth about children who lie.  

All children will lie at some time or another. It is a normal phase in every child’s development. Children lie for different reasons: a preschooler may have an active imagination or maybe unrealistic expectations are being placed on a school-age child. 

Children may also lie to cover-up guilt and avoid punishment. Or a teen may need to protect privacy or gain acceptance from peers.

It’s important not to ignore the situation. On the other hand, you do not want to berate or label your child negatively when they lie. If you do, they’ll just lie all the more to escape the negativity and the punishments that surround lying.   

Try to figure out why your child is lying. Then you can deal with that issue rather than the lie.  

Avoid saying something like “I know you broke that vase and lied to me.” Instead, try “Are you afraid I’d get angry that the vase is broken?” Make your child feel like a participant in a conversation and not an inquisition. When you do, your child is more likely to talk about the mistake and apologize for it. That may be all it takes to prevent further lying. 

Another good approach is to have a bedtime discussion about lying, when you have each other’s undivided attention. Calmly discuss the situation and reiterate how important it is to always tell the truth.

And parents, be good role models. Even a little lie that your children pick up on can be confusing to your children. Explain your reasons for lying or apologize to your child for doing it. Otherwise, they’ll believe it’s an acceptable behavior.

If you feel your child is lying excessively, please talk about this with your child’s health care professional. They may recommend further counseling to help you and your child deal with this problem.

Hopefully tips like this will lie well with you and your child when dealing with your child’s lying.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

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