By Ginger Hubbard
Why do children lie? For that matter, why do adults lie? They exaggerate details in their favor, twist the truth to make themselves look good, and hide facts to protect their guilt. No matter the form, adults lie because they love themselves and want to protect themselves at all costs. Children are no different. Like adults, they will even deny the obvious to save face and avoid consequences.
Lying shows a lack of love for God and a lack of trust that He is in control. When people lie, they are trying to control another person’s response or change the natural outcome of a situation. Instead of trusting God, they try to make things turn out in ways that are best for themselves.
We also try to make the sin of lying sound less bad by calling a small lie a fib, a big lie a doozie, and a “necessary” lie white. These words make lying seem less wrong in our minds, but all lying is wrong to God. In fact, it is so wrong that God says it is one of the seven things He hates (see Prov. 6:16–19).
God also hates lying because it hurts family relationships. Relationships are built on trust. When we lie, it breaks trust in the relationship. This is why Paul says, “Do not lie to each other” (Col. 3:9) and why he tells us to “speak truthfully” (Eph. 4:25). God wants to make us more like Him, and He wants families to love, trust, and stay close to one another. This is why He talks about being truthful a lot in the Bible.
3 Steps to Help a Child with Lying
Step 1: Ask Heart-Probing Questions
Asking questions helps your child take ownership of the sin in her heart, which will help her recognize her need for Jesus.
Help her understand that she is trying to control the outcome rather than trusting God when she lies. You might ask, “Who is the Father of truth who is in control of all things? When you lie, are you trusting in yourself or God? Do you think lying honors God or your family?”
These questions will help her begin thinking about what’s right and wrong and what does and does not please God, even if she does not answer.
Step 2: Reprove Your Child for Lying
Don’t overdo your reproof. Gently explain how lying hurts family relationships and how God hates a lying tongue. You might say, “Not only does God hate lying because it dishonors Him, but family relationships are built on trust. When you lie, it breaks trust in our relationship. It is important that we keep trust in our relationship and honor God by being truthful. The Bible says that one of the seven things God hates is lying. Being truthful reflects the trustworthy character of God.”
Step 3: Train Your Child to Speak Truth
You might say to your child, “In Proverbs, we are told that ‘the Lord delights in those who are truthful’” (Prov. 12:22). Instead of lying, what should you have said that would have been truthful?” Having your child practice telling the truth is training him or her in what is right rather than just punishing them for wrong.
More Insights for Helping a Child Tell the Truth
Avoid only punishing. Consequences have their place, but merely punishing a child for lying will do more harm than good. What we view as a consequence for sin, the child views as “You are punishing me because you found out the truth.” As a result, they will only become better at lying.
Avoid scolding. Responding in anger will cause your child to fear ever telling the truth. It is best to calmly talk about what God says about lying, why it is sinful, and how it hurts family relationships.
Avoid calling her a liar. When you are certain that your child has lied, it’s best to address that she lied rather than calling her a liar. In calling her a liar, you speak to her identity rather than her sin. You might help her focus on who she is in Christ by saying something such as, “Sweetheart, you told a lie, but you are a forgiven child of God, and because of His grace, you can walk in truth.” The best thing a parent can do is to take every opportunity to point their children to Jesus and His power to change their lives.
Confess your own struggle and need for Jesus. Be willing to admit if you struggle with lying. Perhaps tell about a time you told a lie, the consequences, and why it would have been much better if you had told the truth. Talk about how you prayed and asked for God’s forgiveness and help to be truthful. Being honest with your own struggles and need for God’s forgiveness and help will encourage your child to do the same. Pray for yourself and your child with your child.
Model honesty. Statements such as “of course the Easter Bunny is real,” or “your goldfish swam down the toilet, through the pipes, and into the ocean, where he will enjoy happily ever after with Nemo” are not honest statements. When parents lie in these ways, children will question the line between honesty and dishonesty.
Offer mercy when uncertain. If there is any question about whether or not your child is lying, consider offering mercy. Being accused of lying when the child is telling the truth can be devastating. You wouldn’t want to cause her to believe that you are always suspicious or expecting her to lie. If you think your child is lying, but you are uncertain, pray that God will bring it to light. Don’t stress that she might be getting away with a lie because of your uncertainty. If she’s struggling with lying, she will lie again in a situation where you are certain, allowing you to train her in truth.
Trust the Lord. 1 Corinthians 4:5 tells us that “He [God] will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.” As much as we desire our children to walk in the light, God desires that even more. Trust in His love. His love never fails.
Encourage children to tell the truth with Chloe and the Closet of Secrets: A Children’s Book About Lying. A silly story with bright, fun illustrations, this book gives parents a biblical framework and practical suggestions for helping children (and themselves) learn to speak the truth. Available at gingerhubbard.com.
Ginger Hubbard, bestselling author of Don’t Make Me Count to Three, Chloe and the Closet of Secrets: A Children’s Book About Lying, and I Can’t Believe You Just Said That, speaks at women’s events, parenting conferences, and homeschool conventions and co-hosts the Parenting with Ginger Hubbard podcast. Visit her website at GingerHubbard.com.