Why do children lie? For that matter, why do any of us lie? We exaggerate details in our favor, twist the truth to make ourselves look good, and hide facts to protect our guilt. No matter the form, we lie because we love ourselves and want to protect ourselves at all cost. Children are no different. Like us, they will even deny the obvious to save face and avoid consequences.
Lying shows a lack of love for God and a lack of trust that he is in control. When we lie, we are trying to control the response of another person or change the natural outcome of a situation. Instead of trusting God, we try to make things turn out in ways that are best for ourselves.
We also try to make the sin of lying sound less bad by calling a small lie a fib, a big lie a doozie, and a “necessary” lie white. In our minds, these words make lying seem less wrong, but all lying is wrong to God. In fact, it is so wrong that God says it is one of the seven things he hates (see Proverbs 6:16 –19).
God also hates lying because it hurts family relationships. Family relationships are built on trust. When we lie, it breaks trust in the relationship. This is why Paul says, “Do not lie to each other” (Colossians 3:9a) and why he tells us to “speak truthfully” (Ephesians 4:25). God wants to make us more like him and he wants families to love, trust and stay close to one another. This is why he talks about being truthful a lot in the Bible.
3 Steps to Help a Child with Lying
Step One: Ask Heart-Probing Questions.
Asking questions helps your child to take ownership for the sin in her heart, which will help her recognize her need for Jesus.
Help her understand that when she lies, she is trying to control the outcome rather than trusting God. You might ask, “Who is the Father of truth that is in control of all things? When you lie, are you trusting in yourself or in God? Do you think lying honors God or your family?”
These questions will help her to begin thinking about what’s right and wrong, and what does and does not please God, even if she does not answer.
Step Two: Reprove Your Child for Lying.
Don’t overdo your reproof. Gently explain how lying hurts family relationships and how God hates a lying tongue. You might say, “Not only does God hate lying because it dishonors him, but family relationships are built on trust. When you lie, it breaks trust in our relationship. It is important that we keep trust in our relationship and that we honor God by being truthful. The Bible says that one of the seven things God hates is lying. Being truthful reflects the trustworthy character of God.”
Step Three: Train Your Child to Speak Truth.
You might say, “In Proverbs we are told that ‘The Lord delights in those who are truthful’ (Proverbs 12:22). Instead of lying, what should you have said that would have been truthful?” Having your child actually practice telling the truth is training him or her in what is right, rather than just punishing them for wrong.
More Insights for Helping a Child Tell the Truth
Avoid only punishing
Consequences have their place, but to merely punish a child for lying will do more harm than good. What we view as a consequence for sin the child views as “You are punishing me because you found out the truth.” As a result, they will only become better at lying.
Responding in anger will cause your child to fear ever telling the truth. It is best to calmly talk about what God says about lying, why it is sinful, and how it hurts family relationships.
Avoid calling her a liar
When you are certain that your child has lied, it’s best to address the fact that she lied, rather than calling her a liar. In calling her a liar, you are speaking to her identity rather of her sin. You might help her focus on who she is in Christ by saying something such as, “Sweetheart, you told a lie, but you are not a liar. That is not who you are. You are a forgiven child of God, and because of his grace, you can walk in truth.” The best thing a parent can do is to take every opportunity to point their children to Jesus and his power to change their lives.
Confess your own struggle and need for Jesus
Be willing to admit your own struggle with lying. Perhaps tell about a time when you told a lie, what the consequences were, and why it would have been so much better if you had told the truth. Talk about how you pray and ask for God’s forgiveness and help to be truthful. Being honest with your own struggles and need for God’s forgiveness and help will encourage your child to do the same. Pray for yourself and your child with your child.
Statements such as “Of course the Easter Bunny is real,” or “Your goldfish swam down the toilet, through the pipes, and into the ocean, where he will enjoy happily ever after with Nemo” are not honest statements. When parents lie in these ways, children will question the line between honesty and dishonesty.
Offer mercy when uncertain
If there is any question as to whether or not your child is lying, consider offering mercy. To be accused of lying when in fact the child is telling the truth can be devastating. You wouldn’t want to cause her to believe that you are always suspicious or expecting her to lie. If you think your child is lying but you are uncertain, pray that God would bring it to light. Don’t stress that she might be getting away with a lie because of your uncertainty. If she’s struggling with lying, she will lie again in a situation where you are certain, giving you the opportunity to train her in truth.
Trust the Lord
1 Corinthians 4:5 tells us that “He [God] will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.” As much as we desire our children to walk in light, God desires that even more. Trust in his love. His love never fails.
Chloe and the Closet of Secrets
Chloe has a sneaky habit of making up stories. She thinks it’s no big deal, but one day crazy little fluffs appear every time she tells a lie. Chloe starts stuffing the fluffs in her closet, but soon it’s almost ready to burst. Not only that, she realizes that her lies are sinful and are hurting her relationships.