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How To Tell If Your Child Is Lying


Like most parents, Alissa Marcus, a Cherry Hill, NJ mom of three, has eyes in the back of her head. She says she can tell when her kids are lying, although the clues each child provides differ.

When her 5th grader can’t look her in the eye, that’s the telltale sign that he’s fibbing. Her 3rd grader becomes emphatic in her denials when she tries not to admit a wrong. Her kindergartner starts to laugh when he fibs.

Some Give-Aways

If you haven’t figured out your children’s telltale signs yet, psychologist Melissa Brand of Equilibria Psychological and Consultation Services in Philadelphia offers these hints:

  • Poor eye contact. Kids also become defensive and angry because they feel “caught.”
  • Trouble staying still. They may literally squirm with the discomfort of lying to you, or they avoid your questions and stall for time.
  • Defensive reactions. Be suspicious if your child “doth protest too much.”
  • Changing the story. Do you detect inconsistencies in your child’s story? If so, and if your child was with a caregiver, teacher or another adult, get the grownup’s version of what happened.
  • Long pauses. Hesitation before speaking may be your child’s wheels turning while he fabricates an alibi.
  • Facial expressions. Watch for a brief expression of guilt, fear or even a smile or smirk.

Other signs, according to Julius Mullen, EdD, clinical director of Children and Families First., include:

  • Scratching or touching his nose.
  • Emphasizing and extending words.
  • Leaning forward and hand gesturing.
  • Repeating the question as part of the response.

Why Do Kids Lie?

The reasons kids lie depend on their age, says Dr. Mullen. Kids younger than age 7 tend to lie to be nice or to protect themselves from parental disappoint­ment. Teens, on the other hand, lie for many reasons — peer acceptance, attention-seeking, avoiding consequences, so that they don’t harm someone, or even to gain power or for revenge.

Lie Prevention

  • Give your kids the message that they can come to you with anything.
  • Be an open listener. Try to keep your own reactions in check until you’ve heard the full story.
  • Reward the truth. When children confess, don’t immediately move to punishment. Acknowledge how much you appreciate that they told you the truth, then decide together upon an appropriate consequence.
  • Avoid being too harsh or too rigid, and have a few important rules that you enforce consistently.

Terri Akman is a local freelance writer.

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