Parents Q&A: I think my 8-year-old has been sort of lying, what should I do? (Part 2)

How to support children to respond truthfully, or accurately, to us?

[ Recap Part 1 ]

Children lie to avoid punishment or responsibility, seeking attention from others, or to protect another person. Often, these behaviours happen after children find themselves in a conflicted situation or after they misbehave. While some lies can be simple (such as denials), others can be more complex. Although lying is part of children’s development milestone, this socially undesired behaviour may still be worrying for some parents. I’ve described below some of the ways we can support children to respond truthfully, or accurately, to us.


1. Knowing What Your Child Can or Cannot Do

While lies are intentional, mistakes may not. Asking a child questions related to events that happened earlier would require advance language skills and cognitive abilities. In order to distinguish mistakes from lies, we have to identify the skills and abilities that your child has. This would also help to set your child up for success.


2. Choosing the Right Time and Setting

As parents, we are eager to find out what our children did for the day. However, picking a wrong time or setting may affect the child’s response. Ideally, pick a time whereby the child is not distracted from his environment or when the child is not engaged in a preferred activity.


3. Setting Your Child for Success

(a) First, help your child to establish or understand the consequences for being truthful.
Let your child participate or witness a clear and simple event and ask him/her a “yes/no” question or giving your child choices to choose from. If your child responds accurately, praise/reward your child.

(b) When your child is increasingly aware of the consequences, you may present the child with complex questions around a clear and simple event. These questions may involve the child to answer WH questions or describing the event he/she experienced in a few steps. It will be best to ask questions that you already know the answer to and providing immediate consequences to your child.

(c) You may increase the complexity of the event once your child is more successful in accurately answering your questions. Again, it is important to deliver immediate consequence to the child. The longer the delay, the less likely your child will learn the appropriate behaviour.


4. Parent’s Reaction

While these procedures may help you to establish more truth-telling behaviours in your child, how parents react when the child gave a wrong answer (or engaging in lying) can also increased or maintained the behaviour.

When your child engages in truth-telling behaviours, praise him/her for doing the “right” thing and provide reinforcement to strengthen the behaviour. When your child responds incorrectly, or lie, let your child know that he/she has given you the wrong answer and provide some choices to help your child answer correctly. One of the reasons that children avoid telling the truth is to avoid being reprimanded or punished after making a mistake. Therefore, how parents react to their child’s wrong-doing or false statements would also increase or decrease the likelihood of lying.

Children can engage in false statements because they do not have the skill to answer correctly or they are trying to deceive the listener to avoid consequence on him/her. Therefore, before concluding that the child is lying, we have to distinguish the child’s language and cognitive skills to implement an effective strategy. Children may engage in a few lies, however, how a parent react to these situations may determine the likelihood of future behaviours. Although lying is part of the developmental process, excessive or persistent lying behaviour would still require the attention of a behaviour consultant.

Renee Pang

Behavioral Consultant

Information provided by:

Renee Pang holds a Master of Education in Applied Behaviour Analysis from Monash University, Australia. She joined Autism Partnership, Singapore, in 2010 and worked with children on both one-on-one and group settings and provided shadow-aide support in mainstream schools. In 2013, Renee became a Program Supervisor where she worked on designing and tailoring curriculum for the child’s needs under the supervision of the consultants. Additionally, she also ran social groups in mainstream schools and collaborated with teachers and principals to devise integration plans. Renee also provides staff and parent training sessions locally and overseas. She is also fluent in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Since 2019, Renee currently works with Autism Partnership, Hong Kong, to provide consultation, parent training, and staff training for clients in Shanghai.

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