Oh My, Why Lie?

If you have never told a lie, please stop reading this right now!

Many of us believe that honesty is a virtue or a value that is unforgivable if broken. Instead, caregivers may want to establish that being honest is a goal that you and your family can shoot for. Too often, caregivers make missteps around the topic of truth and honesty, primarily by inadvertently setting their kids up to lie. How is this possible? By misinterpreting why they are lying.

In Behavior with a Purpose, authors Richard Delaney and Charley Joyce suggest that there are three general reasons why children and youth tell lies:

  • They have learned this behavior from adults
  • They are fearful of negative consequences
  • They are working toward a reward

Because children have both social and biological needs to avoid risk and negativity, they will almost always lie to avoid those types of experiences. Parents can help by spending more time letting the child know what they believe the truth actually is and less time and energy discussing the actual lie.

Caregivers should avoid talking about the choice to lie as a negative trait, as this dishonors a child’s identity. Joining lying to identity causes the child to feel shame and guilt and can compel them to lie even more! Lies have less to do with personal shortcomings and more to do with simplistic reasons like negative attention and positive rewards. 

It can seem at times that some youth, especially those who have experienced maltreatment, take lying to an extreme. If the child you are caring for is lying to you often, consider what might be behind it. Pay attention to the lies your foster child is telling, when they are telling them, and what the purpose of the lie is. Many times, a caregiver can identify patterns and can help support a child to stop lying and feel safe enough to speak their truth.

Source: Delaney, R., and Joyce, C. (2009). Behavior with a purpose: Thoughtful solutions to common problems of adoptive, foster and kinship youth. Northwest Media.