How do we intervene when we catch our child telling a lie?

What should I do when my child lies to me?

Some child developmental stage theorists indicate that the infancy to preschool years are a time where children are primarily fixated on seeking pleasure and avoiding punishment.  Thus, while we as adults consider lying to be the “wrong” thing to do, toddler-aged children may not yet grasp lying behavior from a morality perspective but rather simply see it as a way to avoid getting in trouble for something.  And as we all know, many times small children are not very good at lying, which can sometimes make their lies rather amusing but frustrating nonetheless.

This does not mean that we cannot start teaching the rules about lying from a young age though.  If you catch your child telling a lie, you will want to start off with a simple benign statement based solely on your observations of what happened.  For example, if you notice that your child has spilled his bottle of juice on the floor yet he denies doing so, you may say something like, “Well I noticed that that’s your special bottle, and I see that there’s orange juice everywhere on the floor.  I wonder how that all got there?”  And then wait and see where your child takes this conversation.  After giving him a chance to tell the truth about what happened, you can start a bigger conversation with your child about what lying is and how it is not okay.  Try to explain it to your child in words that he can understand given his developmental age and language capacity, and give him a chance to repeat the lesson back to you.  Once this is done, you can then work towards full repair and resolution to the situation at hand by saying something like, “Let’s work together to clean up this juice and we can go get you a new bottle.”  As with most new things we are trying to teach our children, this lesson will need to be repeated multiple times before the child begins to really grasp what the concept of lying is and why it’s important to the truth.