Little fibs can lead to bigger fibs, and may eventually lead to habitual dishonesty (and even politics), so it’s best to nip lying in the bud. A good starting point with any undesirable behaviour is always to ask yourself, “What is the pay-off for this behaviour?” Sometimes the payoff is obvious – if a lie spares your kid from the consequences of their stealing, cheating or other inappropriate behaviour, then it is very worthwhile. My father used to jokingly combine two ancient proverbs into the corruption, “A lie is an abomination in the sight of the Lord and an ever ready help in a time of trouble” and for kids, this makes perfect sense. If the moral ‘short-cut’ spares you grief, why not take it?
For many kids lying is worth the risk because of the severity of discipline they hope to avoid. The link between authoritarian, fear-based parenting styles and lying children is very clear. When you are teaching your children about telling the truth, always make a big deal about how honesty leads to good relationships. “Mum and I always want to be able to trust you. The really sad thing about lies is that we may have trouble believing you even when you are telling the truth. I care too much about you to ever treat lying lightly.”
Deal with the lie and the thing lied about separately. Deal with the lying first, such as withdrawing a privilege or liberty. Then provide an additional consequence for whatever misdeed they were hoping to conceal. Let them know that if they had confessed honestly it may not have spared them a consequence, but lying will always make the consequence worse.
Finally, their desire for a good relationship with you will be a powerful incentive to be honest. Between the episodes of lying, treat them as beloved sons and daughters, not criminals on probation.