Parenting: 'What should I do about all my son's lies?'

On this week's 'Parenting' segment on the Moncrieff show, one listener sought advice about what t...
James Wilson
James Wilson

16.13 16 Jul 2022

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Parenting: 'What should I do a...

Parenting: 'What should I do about all my son's lies?'

James Wilson
James Wilson

16.13 16 Jul 2022

Share this article

On this week's 'Parenting' segment on the Moncrieff show, one listener sought advice about what to do about all her son's lies. 

Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist specialising in Child & Adult Psychotherapy, joined Moncrieff to answer this and other listeners' questions.

The question:


"My son has been caught with a few lies lately. Mainly with the childminder. He is six and tends to lie about things that happened. The other day he told her I was in a car accident and had to go to hospital. Absolutely not true.

"He said his brother went missing for a few hours and we all thought he was stolen. It didn’t happen at all.

"And they are just the things we know about. Thankfully the childminder knows us so well and knows not to take him at his word.

"I worry about the types of lies he’s telling but also that someone might believe him. Why would he be doing this and how do I stop him making up these stories?"

Joanna's advice:

“I know that people don’t always agree with me on this but I’m kind of respectful of lying - especially in childhood. 

“I think learning how to tell and refine how to tell a lie is as developmentally important as… learning how to tell the truth.

“All children are going to tell a lie at some point. It tends to start as early as three-years-old. ‘It wasn’t me, I didn’t do it.’

“They’re not very good at it by the way but they do tell it and it rises between four and six-years-old - exactly where this little guy is. 

“They tend to be quite fantastical lies - as again his lies are - and they’re easily disproved because he’s telling them to someone who knows you and you’re going to come and pick him up. You clearly are not in the hospital. 

“So it takes them until about eight-years-old till they can tell a fairly decent lie that’ll have you going, ‘I don’t know, maybe that is true.’” 

She continued: 

“There’s nothing pathological here. There’s nothing that I’d go, ‘He’s doing what now?’ Of course he is, he’s six-years-old, he’s telling really obvious over the top fantastical lies, that’s exactly what I would expect a six-year-old to be doing. 

“Some of them do it with bells on more than others do it. I think what as a parent you’re going to do is emphasise the importance of telling the truth in your family. 

“‘In our family we all tell the truth to each other. In our family we are all honest.’ 

“Don’t say, ‘Don’t lie.’ Tell him what to do rather than what not to do and be very interested in the truth, much more than you’re interested in the lie. 

“Because another way children get this loop is they tell you some big story and you’re like, ‘What! Is that true?’ 

“And they get a lot of investment, they get a lot of interest from adults about it. So they’re like, ‘This is great, let me see how deeply I can embellish this one before you call me on it.’”

She concluded: 

“Praise him when he tells the truth and let him know that’s what’s important and read stories like The Boy Who Cried Wolf but this isn’t a lie that’s getting anyone into trouble. 

“If lying crossed the threshold then of course you’re going to take it much more seriously and say, ‘Look, this isn’t okay, here’s the impact of your lie.’ 

“But with this guy at six, I think I’d be a little bit more playful while holding a boundary that the truth is what you’re interested in.”

Main image: A young child. Photo: Annette Riedl/dpa

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