Children’s lying evolves with their age, often beginning with simple and obvious lies and gradually becoming more sophisticated. They may lie to win an argument with a sibling, get out of doing their homework or deal with a difficult situation. You can tell if your child is lying by observing their body language, listening to the nuances of dialogue and using your emotional intelligence. Responding to your child’s lies with an emotionally mature attitude will help to provide them with a good model for future behavior and improve your relationship with them moving forward.
EditObserving Body Language
- Notice the quality of eye contact. Your child may be lying if they avoid eye contact altogether or maintain unusual eye contact. If your child is younger, they will probably avoid all eye contact. If they are a little older and more sophisticated, they may make a point of maintaining eye contact for a long time, with wide eyes or an unusual expression.
- If they blink a lot while trying to maintain eye contact, it could be a sign of lying.
- Observe brief facial expressions. Your child may express very brief moments of fear, anger, sadness, surprise or despair while lying, which are sometimes called microexpressions. This occurs when someone is consciously trying to hide how they are feeling. You have to watch carefully to see these brief expressions of emotion, which sometimes last less than a second. See if you can discern any of the following emotions in their face while they are talking. If the emotion is at odds with what they are saying or seems out of place, it could indicate a lie:
- Surprise may be expressed with raised and curved brows, horizontal wrinkles on the forehead, eyelids open and the jaw dropped open.
- Fear may be expressed with the brows raised and drawn together, wrinkles in the center of the forehead, whiteness in the upper eye showing, and the mouth open with tensed lips.
- Sadness can be seen when the child is looking downwards, the upper eyelids are dropped, the cheeks are raised upwards, and the corners of the lip are turned down.
- See if they are constantly fidgeting. If your child is unable to stay still while telling you their version of the story, it could indicate a lie. For instance, if you notice doing any of the following fidgeting behaviors, it is a warning sign: 
- Constantly moving their hands.
- Shifting in their seat.
- Shuffling their feet back and forth.
- Look for facial cues and touching. Studies have found a correlation between certain facial cues lying. See if your child bites their lip while talking to you. They may also lick their lips, which could also indicate a lie. If they touch their nose, face or head while talking, it could also indicate a lie.
- Look for strange gestures. See if your child is holding their hands behind their back, or constantly shifting their feet or hands. Bodily gestures are a common giveaway of deceit in both children and adults. It could be as simple as your child holding their hands behind their back. Look for any of the following signs:
- Scratching their body while talking
- Moving their fingers without their arms and for no reason
- Strange movements, shakes or nods of the head
- Shuffling or shifting of the feet and legs
- Shifting position in their seat
EditListening to Language and Emotion
- Listen to pitch. If their tone of voice or pitch goes up, it is often a sign of discomfort due to fear, anxiety or other difficult emotions. This is a telltale sign of lying. It may be a sign that your child feels very uncomfortable and has a sense that they are being forced to lie for some reason.
- See if they repeat the question. If your child repeats a question that you ask them, they may be trying to buy more time to come up with a lie. For instance, if you ask what they did at school today and they repeat the question, there could be something they do not want to report.
- Notice if they get evasive. If your child avoids responding directly to a simple question, they could be trying to avoid having to lie. For instance, if they bring up a completely different subject in response to the question, they may be trying to avoid responding to the question. If you ask again and they offer a strange answer, it could be a lie.
- Avoid taking an investigative approach. It is important to maintain a trusting, loving relationship with your child to decrease the chances that they will lie to you. You should avoid asking your child directly about the lie or pressuring your child for the truth of what happened. An investigative approach can lead to evasiveness and may not encourage your child to be more truthful. Instead, tell stories that encourage truth telling, such as ‘the boy who cried wolf’, and model the behavior you expect from your child. 
- You can find a version of the children’s story, ‘the boy who cried wolf’, here: https://www.storyarts.org/library/aesops/stories/boy.html
- For example, you should avoid using an accusatory tone when asking questions like, “tell me, are you lying right now?”
- Listen for emphatic statements in sibling rivalries. In order to assert themselves with siblings, you children will often lie in order to get their way in an argument. If your child is making a statement in disagreement with a sibling, they may be lying in order to win a power struggle.
- If your child repeatedly says “no” in response to any question about an event or situation, they may be lying.
- If your younger child has been fighting with an older sibling, they may be lying in order to assert themselves in the relationship.
- Pay attention to how their lying changes with age. As your children develop, they will evolve in their relationship to lying and the truth. Whereas lying is often very obvious with younger children, it can get more sophisticated as they grow up. In older children, lying is often more accompanied by guilt. Listen and respond in accordance with their age and maturity:
- If your two-year-old is lying in a disagreement with a sibling, you could try expressing doubt in response to their lie so they know that you see their lie. For instance, if they claim that they did not eat a brownie, you could say, “That’s curious, why do I see chocolate all over your face.”
- If your four-year-old is lying, you should use it as an opportunity to explain why lying is not okay in your household.
- If your child is between five and eight, they may lie to avoid homework or otherwise reduce the pressures of increasing responsibility at school or at home. You should try to praise good behavior and talk openly about the importance of telling the truth.
- If your child is between nine and twelve, you may notice they will experience more guilt when they lie. You should have longer and more open conversations about lying and truthfulness.