My Child Is Lying. What Do I Do?

Your child's Type can help you see why they tell stories.

Children have 4 main motivations to not tell the truth.

Kids of all ages (and all 4 Energy Types) might say things that aren’t true. If you call your child a liar, they’re only more likely to lie. So what do you do?

In this episode, Carol and Anne share the four main motivations that children have to bend, stretch, or invent the truth. This episode will help you understand your child and give you the words you need to talk about truth.

This week’s Parenting Practice

If your child has not been telling the truth, consider how you have been referring to this experience. Rather than reacting with dismay or punishment, approach them with curiosity about their real motive. What’s going on? Get to the bottom of that first. Then help them get what they need, true to Type, so that they feel safe and empowered to tell the truth.

Transcript of podcast episode


Carol: My child’s a liar. Oh no.

Anne: Why are you lying to me? Yeah. Say, “Why are you telling me this instead of this?” Because I think there are instances if your kid says they didn’t do something that you know they did. Like, you need to…

Carol: Did you ever lie to me?

Anne: Sure I did, yeah.

Carol: Welcome to The Child Whisperer Podcast. I’m your host, Carol Tuttle, author of the best-selling parenting book, The Child Whisperer. I’m with my co-host, Anne Tuttle Brown.

Anne: We see this topic and question come up a lot in The Child Whisperer Facebook group. “What do I do? My child is lying.” And a lot of really great responses and I think a lot of people have experienced this with their kids, and it can span all sorts of ages really. And we have some great tips to support your child when they’re lying. And what does lying really even mean? Carol, what do you think lying means when we’re using it with children?

Carol: Well, I wouldn’t qualify…you know, because I understand the 4 Types quite well. I wrote a book about them. The Type 1’s I know are animated. So, animation is making things bigger than life, exaggerating. So, some parents could see that as lying. Type 3’s substantiate things, you know.

Anne: Exaggerate. Exactly.

Carol: They just go bigger, exaggerate, and for a different reason.

Anne: They want to be impressive too. They want to impress.

Carol: Yeah. Type 1’s, just their tendency is just because they’re imaginative. Type 2’s would be the least likely to distort something. Type 3’s would want to create something bigger than life as a way to impress somebody, for sure. Type 4’s, their motive would be more logic in that they’re… For Type 2 or Type 4 or any Type really is to prevent an upset or to not get in trouble.

Anne: Yeah, they can do that.

Carol: It’s not safe to tell the truth here.

Anne: I think a Type 4 could, maybe if they found out they were wrong about something, they could, like…

Carol: It’s true.

Anne: …make up a story to prove…

Carol: Avoid…

Anne: …that they were correct.

Carol: Or avoid embarrassment.

Anne: I think a Type 2, to avoid being trouble or to maybe, like, join in with…to want to feel accepted by their peers.

Carol: Just even this comment that was posted one day, “I’ve noticed a lot of Type 1 children lie. Any tips to get them to tell the truth? It will be about things that wouldn’t even get them into trouble either, about little mini things. I can’t figure out what their motivation might be.” So right away, I’m looking at that and going, okay, go back and read “The Child Whisperer” again.

Anne: What’s their communication? Enthusiastic.

Carol: Enthusiasm.

Anne: Imaginative.

Carol: So, to me is why would… I would say a Type 1 child has a tendency to animate things, to exaggerate, to make them more than they are.

Anne: There was a great reply on that same thread in The Child Whisperer group. “My child makes up stories. I guess you could call them lies. They’re just ridiculous, silly, made up stories that are obviously not true.” And so, I think that using that word lie; you’ve got to be really careful of when you use that as a parent.

Carol: I do too.

Anne: Because if you’re like, they just…

Carol: I just figure a Type 4 parent is writing these comments. You have to be literal. And I’m like, well, their motive…

Anne: I think you got to realize their age too, you know. If it’s like…

Carol: Yeah, I understand the motive. That’s not too confusing to me. Maybe they’re bored in life and this is their way of kind of, you know, bringing some variety to it because their minds are very imaginative.

Anne: The example that was given was that, “My friend asked my Type 1 daughter when we take down our trampoline for the winter. My daughter told her that we don’t take ours down because we got some springs stolen out of our garage one year so we just leave it up.” And she says, “This never happened. Why would she even lie about this?” Like in that moment… like you said, in the communication of each Type, Type 1’s words come out quickly. They don’t necessarily have to think it through. They just, boom, it comes out very quickly, true to their nature.

Carol: Here’s how I would have handled that one. I wouldn’t have put her on the spot right there. I would have just noticed it and gone, “Well, that was interesting.” I may have corrected it without her being in the space with the friend. But instead of saying, “Why did you lie about that?” I would use the phrase, “Why did you tell that story?”

Anne: Exactly.

Carol: “Why did you make up that story?” And learn about it, rather than trying to see it as this moral issue, “My child lies,” is, “My child’s a Type 1, and they can have a tendency to create things that don’t exist.” They have imaginary friends. They created stories that never happened. I’d want to know why… There may not be any…

Anne: Yeah. They just…

Carol: …motive that’s like…

Anne: …like making stuff up.

Carol: …they’re a bad person. It’s like, maybe she doesn’t even know why she said it.

Anne: Yeah. And there may not even be anything that’s like, “Oh, they’re bored.” They’re just excited to say something.

Carol: In that case, it would be…

Anne: Let me share another comment. “I’ve had to ask my Type 1 kids, ‘Did that really happen or is that a story?’ They usually grinned and said something about it being a good story.”

Carol: So, there are appropriate times for them to make up stories…

Anne: That’s a good way. “Did that really happen or is that a story?”

Carol: So, in the case of somebody stole the springs out, that’s not really a story they should be telling people. So, there’s an opportunity there to correct that and say, “Well, okay. What’s the difference between stories that are fun…”

Anne: That’s a good idea.

Carol: “…and stories that are inappropriate,” because that’s just…

Anne: You don’t want to be telling people there’s a burglar going around, sneaking into people’s garages. Yeah.

Carol: Yeah, it’s like okay… and you know, what’s your child missing in life? And maybe your kid needs a little more excitement. I don’t know. But that’s where is some opportunity for teaching and correction and saying it’s, you know, let’s just have fun with stories, not tell stories that aren’t accurate.

Anne: I think that’s a good idea, yeah. How can we help them become a great storyteller? One of the best storytellers I know is my Type 1 mother-in-law. She just is so…

Carol: She’s a great storyteller.

Anne: …enthusiastic, imaginative. Her stories are just so engaging.

Carol: She has more stories than any person we know too.

Anne: Yeah.

Carol: Really, she’s…

Anne: Is that a story or does that really happen? I mean, I wonder.

Carol: …of things that have happened to her. Yeah, you would ask me. I mean, we should have her on some day just to tell her stories, because they’re hilarious. I’m like, “How could that have ever happened?” But they have. Time to take a short break but don’t worry, we’ll be right back after this.

Female: Knowing your Type and your child’s Type changes everything, doesn’t it? It helps you to understand one another better. It can help your outside too. When you wear clothes that express your Type, you feel better, you look better, and people understand you more easily, including your kids. Carol Tuttle created the Dressing Your Truth program to help you dress true to your Type and create a personal style that expresses who you really are. The best part? You can learn all the basics for free. Start loving how you look and feel at dressingyourtruth.com.

Carol: Here’s a great response. “My Type 3 6-year-old does this too. I avoid calling her out for lying because it’s not that serious in her mind or mine either. I feel like calling her out for lying would be too shaming for her and make it a bigger deal than needed. We’ve come up with some phrases she can use when she’s making something up. She’ll say, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…?’ or I’ve told her to wink at me when she’s making something up where I can pause the story and ask her, ‘Are we pretending right now?’ She’ll answer, ‘Yes,’ and then she’ll go on with the story and I’ll get really into it with her.”

Anne: That’s a great technique, to just in that moment, especially with a Type 3 is, like… they’re just exaggerating the story. And you’ve laid kind of the groundwork of, like, this is a fun story, we can have fun with this, then go there with them and just pretend, and acknowledge that that is just a story that we’re making up and we’re having fun with. And my daughter has had this, and as a Type 3, she wants to exaggerate it and she’ll have this tendency of telling her friends she has her own phone or just little things like that, where she just wants to seem bigger or her life’s more exciting. And she had a friend come over who was a Type 4, and she said, “Katie said,” and I can’t remember. I guess it was probably something like, “Katie said she has her very own phone. Is that true?” And I said, “No, but Katie can use my phone sometimes,” you know, to like, not discredit her fully but to say, “No, that’s not true.” And I explained to Katie that if she keeps telling these stories to her friends…

Carol: She’s trying to impress her friend though.

Anne: Yes.

Carol: Did you see that? That that was her motive.

Anne: Yeah, totally. And to be like, “Look, I’m cool, guys.”

Carol: Yeah, I’m impressing you. I want to be impressive.

Anne: But, I explained to Katie that her friend’s a Type 4, and especially with Type 4’s, you really have to be clear with them so that there can be trust in the relationship. And she acknowledged that and said, “But I winked at her.” And I was like, “Well, that wasn’t…” because we use that trick, and I was like, “Your friends don’t know that. That’s between you and me.”

Carol: That’s an insider…

Anne: So, she really caught onto that though, of like, “Okay, I want to respect my friends and I understand they have this tendency, and so I’ve seen some improvements as we’ve talked about that. You know, and I kind of just kind of take it in each case by case.”

Carol: Right. I love this response. “Why are you telling me this instead of what really happened,” rather than, “Why are you a liar?” See the difference? It’s like, my child’s a liar. Oh no.

Anne: Why are you lying to me? Yeah. Say, “Why are you telling me this instead of this?” Because I think there are instances if your kid, you know, says they didn’t do something that they know you did, like, you need to talk…

Carol: Did you lie to me?

Anne: Sure I did, yeah.

Carol: I remember lying when I was about 7 or 8. I was standing on a ball. I have three brothers so they’re throwing balls around. And I knock something over and it shattered. And I wrote my parents a note, making up a story that wasn’t true of how it broke, that it wasn’t what I did. Because I’m pretty sure I was scared about getting into trouble for it. And I wanted to deflect that risk of, “Oh no, what’s going to happen to me.” But, my mother was mindful enough to… I don’t think my story made enough sense. It wasn’t rational enough. So, ultimately I did tell the truth and she responded favorably. I don’t remember getting into trouble for that. But, I distinctly remember that, choosing that.

And so, this response, I think is really appropriate. “It’s my experience that lying is not particular to a Type, but the motivation is unique. My Type 1 rarely lies right now, but my Type 4 lies a lot when she doesn’t feel supported in her autonomy. I’m a Type 2 and lied in order to not start something and be a burden to my parents. My Type 3 husband said he lied a lot but he was not well-supported.” So again, it can be a red flag. Why is my child not telling the truth? Or it can just be a tendency that’s going in a direction that you need to redirect. Just, like, their physical behavior. You need to now coach them on, “That’s fun if we are honest about the fact,” you know, “that we’re making stuff up right now,” and these are situations that that’s just not appropriate.

Anne: And I’ve even, when there are scenarios like, you know, first thing when she wakes up, needs to use the bathroom. “Did you use the bathroom, Katie?” “Yes.” And then, she didn’t. “Well, why didn’t you tell me the truth?” rather than saying, “Why did you lie to me?” “Why didn’t you tell me the truth?” So, I just try to avoid that word.

Carol: I like that. Yeah, that’s more inviting to answer, “Why didn’t you tell me the truth,” versus, “Why are you lying to me. You’re a liar.”

Anne: Because then you feel like you have to defend yourself as a person in a way.

Carol: Yeah. How many times have your children, I mean, think a common one was, “Did you brush your teeth?” “Yes.” Well, no they didn’t. And the other child steps in and says, “They did not. They didn’t brush their teeth. They’re lying.”

Anne: Oh yeah. If you’ve got siblings, then there’s a whole bunch of correcting that’s going on too. If it is a problem across the family, lay down the groundwork, have a family meeting and say, “Okay, what are our rules around this? How are we going to respond to each other?”

Carol: I think it’s appropriate to just say, “We’re not going to deem each other liars.”

Anne: Mm-hmm. That’s a good starting place.

Carol: So, this week’s practice is, if you’re dealing with this behavior with a child, how have you been referencing it? Are you more worried that your child has some issue with lying and they’re morally in the wrong and you need to help change that, versus what’s their real motive? What’s going on? Get to the bottom of that, and then employ their motives true to Type, so in each Type’s case, maybe they’re looking for something that they’re not getting. That Type 1 needs a little more excitement in their life and variety.

Anne: My Type 3 6-year-old needs her own phone. Is that what she’s asking?

Carol: No. She just needs opportunity she can excel at things that she can feel she’s impressing herself. And just by being herself, because you get to the point as a Type 3 that you don’t do it because you want to impress others, but it somehow just does. You know, Michael Phelps, he was the king of, “Wow, that’s impressive.”

Anne: And you have to realize too, I think specifically for a Type 1 and Type 3, like, they’ll always exaggerate the numbers just a bit. Like, I deal with that with…

Carol: I always say, “Don’t believe any Type 3 online marketers and the numbers they give you.” I’ll admit I can exaggerate some. We can’t round it up by the hundreds of thousands?

Anne: I know. My husband, he exaggerates numbers and I’m very much more like an under-exaggerator definitely, like, just exactly how it is. And I used to correct him in conversations with friends and stuff, and he told me, “Don’t correct me. That’s first of all, embarrassing. And, like, just let me tell the story how I believe the story to be.” And he’s a better storyteller than I am. So, now I can correct in my mind and I don’t bring it up. And it’s not like he’s lying. And I think this goes back to the kids as well. Type 3’s and Type 1’s will just add a little bit more oomph to how they tell things.

Carol: And if that really, really triggers you to a deep level where it’s completely unacceptable and just really, really gets to you, then… I actually wrote this in a response to a mom that posted about a lie, you know, “It really triggers me that my child just isn’t telling the truth.” And I said, “Where in your past have people not respected you, told you the truth…”

Anne: You’ve been lied to. Yeah.

Carol: “…that you’ve been used, you feel like you’ve been used, that they’ve never accounted for? So, those are some old wounds you need to clean up so that you can deal with this without feeling like it’s just so extreme.” Of course, you want your children to tell the truth. Understanding their Type and their tendencies and their motives will help you support them in making that choice consistently.

Thanks for listening. For more support, go to thechildwhisperer.com where you can purchase the book, subscribe to our weekly parenting practice email and find a transcription and audio of “The Child Whisperer Podcast.”

Anne: If you’re listening on iTunes, thank you for leaving a review. If you have a parenting question, please send it to [email protected].

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