Liar Liar, Pants on Fire

This article, entitled "Liar Liar, Pants on Fire," comes from Erin Ferris at

Last week I caught my seven-year-old son in a lie.

Will rarely remembers to wash his hands after going to the bathroom, so my husband and I regularly remind him to do so after pit stops. On this particular occasion, I asked and he answered in the affirmative…a little too quickly. I asked again, in a calm voice so Will wouldn’t perceive my question as an attack, and again he answered that he’d washed his hands. I just knew he hadn’t – moms know these things, don’t we? – so I asked him if I could feel his hands. As he stood up and walked toward me I could see his resolve crumbling, and just as I took his hand in mine he confessed…and released the anxiety he felt over lying by bursting into tears.

I pulled Will in close to me on the couch and wrapped my arms around him. I reiterated the importance of telling the truth. I stressed that his daddy and I expect him to be honest with us, even when he’s done something wrong and fears the truth may make us angry. And then I assured him that while yes, the truth may make us angry, the situation – and his punishment – will ALWAYS be worse if he lied to us first.

Will understood. Or so I thought.

The very next day a similar scenario, though surrounding a different lie, played out first thing in the morning. I was sad and frustrated and ANGRY, so when Will finally confessed and once again collapsed into a puddle of his own tears, I had very little pity for him. I took away one of his most-loved privileges and then made him wash his breakfast dishes in the sink and unload the dishwasher. (I’ll spare you the long story, but given the subject of the lie, these jobs seemed appropriate consequences.)

Clearly Will hadn’t understood, at least not well. Back to the drawing board.

And by drawing board, I mean the internet. This past week I spent more time than I had to spare researching lying in school-aged kids in an attempt to better understand where Will has been coming from and how I can help him. In a nutshell, here’s what I learned…

First, I shouldn’t stress about Will’s lying. Kids lie for all sorts of often understandable and even forgivable reasons, just like adults do. (How many little white lies do we tell each day?) The difference is that kids Will’s age haven’t quite figured out how manipulating the truth and telling little white lies fit into our society fabric and interpersonal relationships.

Second, there exists significant agreement between experts when it comes to how best to approach and address lying in children. I read a number of articles, but found the tips below – summarized from an article on the Scholastic website – most helpful.

  • Model the behavior you expect to see in your child. Pay attention to when and how you lie. To foster a trusting, self-regulating child who cares about his welfare and that of others, we need to be trusting, self-regulating, and respectful adults.
  • Cool down before doing anything. Calmer parents communicate better.
  • Consider the goal of the child’s lie. There is always a motive for and meaning behind what children tell adults. Ask yourself and the child what the child attempted to gain by lying; the answer may (and in some cases, should) impact the consequences you choose.
  • Use consequences that promote the development of conscience. Instead of doling out a punishment, use consequences that allow the child to learn from their mistakes and either solve the problem or improve the conditions created by their lie.
  • Point out the logical consequences of lying. The boy who cried wolf provides a perfect example: tell the child the story and then give them the opportunity to change their story and tell you the truth to reinforce their confidence and make it easier to tell the truth the next time.

I know now that while I was on the right track with Will the first time he lied to me, I need to adjust my punishment/consequence strategy. As always, I have lots to learn…

What have you learned? How have you dealt with your children’s lies?

About the Author...
Erin Ferris
My name is Erin, and I’m a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas.

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