Why Children Lie

When children lie it is often tempting to see the reason for the lie as a mystery. For example; “Why would my child lie about taking that toy from his brother, when it is so obvious that he did do just that?” Then, deepening the mystery, parents often ask, “Why would he make up such a far-fetched story to cover up his actions? The lie and cover up seem so illogical and unnecessary.” Thus, parents sometimes tend to treat the problem as one of logic and intelligence; they puzzle over why their children would lie. Scripture solves the mystery. Children are born liars. When we sin, we lose the ability to be logical. We are blinded by self-interest (Proverbs 4:19).

Lying is the extension of a self-centered nature. Children tend to lie in two types of circumstances. First, they lie when they fear a consequence so much they will do anything to avoid it, e.g., punishment for hitting. Second, children tend to lie when there is something they desire, and they see lying as the best way to get it; e.g., I am angry with my brother, so I will make up something to make him look bad. In both situations the reason for the lie is the same—a self-centered viewpoint.

Children lie because they fear exposure. They think their thoughts and doubts are hidden, and a lie is the best way to solve the problem. However, nothing is hidden from God.

. Lying is an indication that children are much more self-aware than they are often given credit for. It is compelling evidence of their true heritage: original sin. Children don’t have to be taught to lie, it comes naturally.

So when you hear your children lie, remember that one of the elements behind the lie is fear—fear of being exposed for who they really are. The answer, of course, is Christ. Even in the midst of hearing their lies, you can have compassion for your children. Yes, they are sinful, unkind, and even cruel with their lies. But at the root is a heart in need of Christ. Without Christ, fear dominates. Fear can make one stupidly deny the truth, just as Sarah did.

When your children lie, or even when you think they may have lied, you always want to remind them that God knows their hearts and thoughts even better than they do themselves. You want to call them to repent and trust in Christ, for he alone can help them overcome the fear of self-exposure. Only the power of the Gospel can free them from the tyranny of lying. You can and should confidently tell them that God knows whether they have been truthful or not. Discipline for lying must come from compassion for a lost heart. Yes, your children have offended you with their lies, but more importantly, they have offended and mocked God. Help them to see this reality. It is sometimes difficult to realize that a child who is defiant and seemingly unfazed by lying may actually be dominated by fear. Yet this is often the case.

Ephesians 4 says that the opposite of lying is truth-telling. The way to expose lying for what it is, is to tell the truth yourself. If you make your children’s lies primarily an issue between them and you, you are actually distorting the truth. A child must be right with God before he can be really right with parents. Lying is a deeply personal sin of the heart. Only Christ can address this issue. You want to point your children to Christ to address this sin. More on this and the second reason for lying in the next few posts.

As always, let me know your thoughts.


Every couple of years I repost this series on lying. Some of you have not read these and for the rest they are a good reminder.  These posts have been modified from the original ones.

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