Everybody lies sometimes. It’s part of life, and sometimes it’s even appropriate for your child to lie. If a school classmate asks if they like their new shoes, saying yes may be the appropriate response, even if they don’t.
Most of the time, however, young people lie to cope with difficult feelings related to embarrassment, shame, low self-esteem, to avoid an unfavorable consequence from an adult, or to get out of doing something. Lying is a behavior that serves a purpose, however, chronic lying should be seen as an indication your child is having a hard time at something.
In my practice, I observe children lying particularly surrounding their academics. They often tell parents they have done homework or did well on an assignment when the opposite is true. The lying serves as a temporary way to deal with difficult feelings and/or to prevent negative attention from parents or classmates. Chronic lying of this nature could indicate a variety struggles but an obvious one is that your child needs additional academic support, may have an unidentified learning disability, or is enduring some type of emotional stress that is making it hard to concentrate or get motivated.
Other types of lying I observe relates to a child’s desire to fit in socially. The lie is often about having material possessions, experiences, or relationships they may fantasize—so much so, the fantasy may seem like reality to them. The lies frequently relate to embellishments or exaggerations of real life stories either to provide greater entertainment value or to make the child more interesting, heroic, or important. Sometimes children lie because they have not developed or are not secure in their social skills.
Inevitably, the lie comes back to the bite the young person, eroding trust with parents and causes more social difficulties, perpetuating the lying cycle.
Parents can help their child become more truthful by understanding their fears and concerns without judgment. Parents may be putting too much pressure or have unrealistic expectations in which the child feels trapped and feels the need to lie. Social lies typically relates to poor self-esteem which could be a result of a number of factors. Improving the young person’s ability to value and accept themself while also identifying feelings of hurt and loss that lead them to lie typically ameliorates things. If the young person has poor social skills, this is something that can be learned.