Can You Really Tell If Your Kid Is Lying?

Cognitive psychologists say that lying is a social behavioral pattern. Not only children but we adults also lie every single day, sometimes unconsciously. What’s interesting is that liars leave non-verbal cues that can easily help you determine that a person is deceiving. Like adults, children also learn to lie to gain benefits or deceive others. Sometimes kids also lie to benefit others. For instance, children might lie to protect their friends from getting caught for wrong-doing. Although lying is a common factor for a child’s development, it can definitely throw off parents in the pit of confusion and fear. If you wonder why do kids lie — there is deeper psychology behind a lying child. In fact, consequences for their actions (in this case, lying) can help stop compulsive lying. So how to deal with a kid who constantly lies? Read on to know more!

Lying Children: What’s The Psychology?

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Children lying is a sign that they can identify various beliefs, emotions, and feelings others have. Therefore, it is important for parents to understand and learn the intention behind their child lying.

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A child may not necessarily lie to harm others. Kids lie to their parents or an authoritative figure to cover up their mistakes most of the time. Then, as they grow up, they start lying to protect their freedom and guard their privacy.

A research study also confirms that children lie to conceal their mistakes or hide something they weren’t supposed to do in the first place.

We as parents or guardians are sometimes clueless and, other times— fully aware of what is going on. Sometimes the onset of lying is sudden and intense, reports Matthew Rouse, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.

According to research conducted on 514 University students by Kelly Warren, Elyse Dodd, Graham Raynor, and Carole Peterson, children fabricate lies, and parents do not have a sure-shot way to judge.

Any coaching or experience may give only 50% chances to catch when their kid is lying. It is worse when elapsed time results in children having moments where they get the time to prepare and frame their story.

Below traits and telltale signs can help parents detect when the child is lying. It may not be perfect as a lie detector. Just be patient and go with your instincts; it can guide you along with these points.

3 Quick Non-Verbal Cues Of Liars According To Researchers

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Many researchers have found behavioral signs of liars. For example, below are the 3 quick non-verbal cues of a lying child:

  1. Less eye contact
  2. Increased fidgeting
  3. A shift in body posture

A cognitive hypothesis also explains that lying requires more cognitive effort, thereby leading to abnormal behavior. So now, let’s dig deep and learn the art of spotting a liar.

5 Easy Ways To Spot A Lying Child

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As per psychology, these are the simple ways to identify if your child is lying.

1. Long Pause

Children who lie generally tend to take pauses when asked a question about their behavior.

Although it’s typical of individuals to take pauses in between conversations, however, a longer pause is a possible sign of manipulation that your child may be taking time to cook up some story so that they can justify a lie.

This trait can judge the falsehood as a child should be able to answer simple factual questions like “what did you eat after lunch?” If the answer is not prompt and there is a moment of hesitation, the answer is usually a lie.

2. Disparity Between Facial And Verbal Expression

Pay attention to the verbal nuances. Whenever children lie, their verbal expressions and body language don’t sync with each other. The timing would be off between the gestures and words.

For example, if your child says they are angry about a specific incident that happened at school, but the expression is that of being upset, or anger can be seen a bit delayed, the kid probably is lying or hiding something.

Most of the time, children are not deceitful but are merely hiding another emotion, for example, feeling of loneliness.

The elderly should look for other signs along with this trait to determine if the kid is lying or is going through a situation.

3. Changing The Subject When Questioned

A child may be hiding something when trying to avoid a topic, or they give irrelevant information. Generally, even an adult would do the same. Anyone who’s uncomfortable about a particular issue would tend to be vague about it.

Similarly, your kid or a teenager will go to any length, beat around the bush rather than give a direct answer. It is a general tactic to tell stories or facts that are not essential.

Another sign is that the child is providing information that you didn’t ask for. This cue does convey something untold.

4. Kids Feel A Sense Of Relief After Lying

Another sign of lying children is feeling relieved once the questioning stops. Once the topic is over, notice how the child reacts.

If you see a sigh of relief or any behavior change, it indicates a lie. After lying, they relax their shoulders, and the whole stance changes. It would be more relaxed as if some load has lifted out. The eyes become gentle again.

Child psychology states then when a kid lies, they become defensive, and the whole body language changes similarly. But once the moment has passed, the child could let go of it and become tense-free.

5. There Is A Thin Line Between Fear And Surprise

In her book Human Lie Detection and Body Language 101, Vanessa Van Edwards explains the concept of micro-expressions. According to her, these expressions can never be fabricated, and they reveal the genuine emotion of the child.

There are minor differences between the expression of surprise and that of fear, and once a parent learns to read these micro-expressions, they can decide when their child is scared of telling a lie or is taken aback.

For example, a surprised expression would show:

  • Raised and curved brows
  • Horizontal wrinkles may appear on the forehead
  • Eyelids open beyond usual
  • Teeth are parted, but you can sense some tension

On the other hand, expression of fear would be:

  • Brows are usually drowned together in a flat line
  • The Centre of the forehead is wrinkled
  • The lower eyelid seems to be tense
  • Lips are slightly anxious

It is not easy to differentiate between these expressions but once observed keenly, you can determine.

  • The Pitch May Become Higher

When the child becomes defensive, their voice will turn up a notch towards the end of the sentence. Insecurity, anxiety, and fear have similar traits because the kid may not be comfortable with deception.

  • Pay Attention To Body Language Cues

Pay attention to the small changes in the kid’s body language. For instance, when the child is lying, you will notice a difference in their breathing pattern.

Dry mouth, stillness or shuffling of the foot, hand gestures— these are the signs you must look for in children trying to manipulate.

Children, while lying, would not like to go into detail if the question is asked unexpectedly.

Additionally, focus on the aspects of their description. If the same question is asked again, you will notice small changes in the account of events.

On the other hand, if there are too many details, it happens when the child has had time to think about it; you should know it is a practiced story.

These cues may not be a sure way of catching on to your child’s lies but may give an insight into what they might be up to.

How To Stop Compulsive Lying?

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Compulsive lying is a consistent behavior where a person lied out of habit irrespective of how critical situations. It is also termed pathological, mythomania, and habitual lying.

Here are some examples of compulsive lying:

  • In compulsive lying, a person may hide any possible life-threatening diseases to their would-be spouse
  • Creating a false history about their past, like academic achievements
  • Claiming to be more successful or financially rich
  • Hiding an extramarital affair from their partner or
  • Concealing financial problems with family members

If you find your child or teen is incessantly lying about important things which should be a matter of concern for you, you can deal with them in the following ways.

1. Discipline Your Kids With Consequences After They Lie

All actions come with consequences. One of the best ways to stop your kids from compulsive lying is by creating consequences. These consequences need not necessarily be harsh, but something that influences them.

For example, simple consequences like reduced game time, no desserts, no entertainment gadgets, etc., can help deal with a kid who lies often.

Also, keep in mind that these consequences for lying should be age-appropriate as per the kids.

2. Become A Role Model Of Honesty

Kids need good role models in their lives because they learn from the behavior their parents exhibit in the development years.

Hence, as a parent, you need to ensure you don’t lie in front of the kids. No matter whatever the reason is, be as honest as you can. This can help you to deal with a child that lies and stop compulsive lying habits.

Psychology states that a child can start lying by observing their parents doing the same. Simple lies like giving a fake excuse for getting late, using something fake to get some extra discounts at the store, etc., can give the kids the wrong impression.

3. Know When To Be Gentle And When To Be Assertive

Sure, setting consequences for lying kids is good. However, you need to know when to be gentle and when to be firm.

If the child lied because of particular fear or trauma, try to understand the situation and help the child to understand it is wrong.

However, if kids lied for fun to get someone else in trouble, you need to have stricter consequences for their lying behavior.

4. Provide Positive Reinforcement For Telling The Truth

Another great way to deal with a child that lies is through positive reinforcement for honesty. Appreciate the child every time they are honest. If the child admits to their mistake, acknowledge them.

As per child psychology, this can positively impact and reduce lying because of their rewards for their actions.

5. Seek Help If Needed

Lastly, if the lying is something out of your control, don’t be afraid to seek help. Speak to the teacher of your child or a counselor. They can help you find a solution to the problem.

Concluding Thoughts,

We believe the relationship between parents and children should be one of trust and love. Parenting is a 2-way street; you cannot preach the importance of being truthful if you lie often.

Children in the age group of 4-6 have a habit of telling stories because it excites them. They grow up listening to tales, and thus it comes naturally to them.

But as parents, we need to communicate to them the difference between stories and lies. Always be in an open relationship with your kid.

Trust them and let them trust you. If you still feel they are hiding something, verify it before you accuse them. Then, talk it out and explain the consequences of lying.

Once the bond is severed, it becomes difficult to mend it, encouraging the child to lie more often. Before you know it, it’s become their habit. It is natural and part of growing up but can be curbed and limited. Additionally, be practical and always take a middle way to help your child.

Relationships are important. Therefore, nurture them with care. Don’t let lies take over relationships.

Key Takeaways On When Kids Lie

  • Cognitive psychologists say that lying is a social behavioral pattern. Not only children but we adults also lie every single day, sometimes unconsciously. What’s interesting is that liars leave non-verbal cues that can easily help you determine that a person is deceiving.
  • If you wondered why do kids lie— there is deeper psychology behind a lying child.
  • It means they can understand the feeling, emotions, and beliefs of others.
  • Many researchers have found behavioral signs of liars. For example, the 3 quick non-verbal cues of a lying child are less eye contact, increased fidgeting, and a shift in body posture.
  • A research study also found that children may lie to conceal their mistakes or hide something they weren’t supposed to do in the first place.
  • If your kid takes a long pause when asked a question, it’s a common sign they are manipulating the real story in their head to justify their lie.
  • Also, the physical expression and their verbal expression do not sync with each other when a kids lie.
  • Your child will often try to change the subject when you deal with their lies.
  • They will also feel relieved once you stop asking them questions.
  • If you want to stop the manipulating signs in your child, it’s imperative to be assertive while setting consequences for their lying behavior.
  • Children inherit most of the characteristics from their parents too, which is why you should express integrity and speak the truth at any cost as a parent.
  • You can also use the method of positive reinforcement while dealing with your child’s lies.
  • Lastly, if nothing seems to help, always seek professional expertise.

What to do when your child lies?

If you identify the signs that your child is manipulating you, you can deal with them by:

  • Paying attention to their behavior.
  • Create consequences for their actions.
  • Be strict whenever needed.
  • Provide positive reinforcement for telling the truth.
  • Seek professional help.

Why do children lie?

A child may lie for several reasons like:

  • To bury their mistakes.
  • For attention.
  • To avoid conflict.

Have you spotted any liars lately? If so, how do you deal with a child or adult who lies around you? How do you find out if your kid is lying or not? Write your thoughts in the comments. Also, share your tips on how to stop compulsive lying and help others learn.

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Preeti is a stay at home mother of two boys, who keep her on toes. Writing and paper quilling are her passion. She loves to express herself through these mediums - use of words and paper filigree. Listening to music, watching favorite shows, and reading books are her hobbies that take her to a different plane.