Liar Liar Pants on Fire!

The cause of lying in your classroom and how to handle it.

A Unique Bunch!

As educators and future educators, our classrooms are filled with a wide, diverse group of students. Some come from other places. Some sit quietly in their seat and never speak a word. Some cannot sit in their seat to save their lives. Some listen to and follow every direction you give. Others do not hear a word you say. Some students have different abilities than others and need additional support to learn. Some can breeze through their work with no aid at all. Finally, there are some who just can't seem to "tell it straight." Their dog ate their homework. Or they did not just run down the hall like a marathon sprinter, despite the fact that you saw them do it. This flyer is created to help educators better understand these kinds of students as well as to provide helpful tips on how to handle the defiant and untruthful situations that they may find themselves in.

Categories of Lies

Before we look at the causes of lying, we must consider the type of lying that occurs in the classroom. There are several different categories of lying that can have different meanings (Katz, 1).
  1. White Lies/Fibbing: these are untruths that do not cause harm or a substantial amount of damage to the liar or others. They are often told to protect the individual to whom they are given (Katz, 1).
  2. Deceitful Situations: These situations have consequences that motivate students to lie to their teacher (Marksteiner et al, 3).
  3. Pathological/Chronic Lying: This type of lying is closely connected with several EBD disorders. It occurs often and usually consists of outrageous claims, changing stories, and lying when there is no reason to do so (Fries, 1).

Underlying Issues

When talking about pathological and chronic lying, there are several other things to consider. There are deeper issues that could be causing the student to lie that are either connected to their past, present situation or even the diagnosis of a disorder. Unfortunately, a history of abuse (physical, emotional and drug), parental rejection, and lack of discipline can lead to persistent lying (Dolan, 466). This kind of lying is thought of as an early indicator of and connected to certain disorders. These include, but are not limited to:
  • BiPolar disorder
  • Conduct Disorder
  • Depression
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Oppositional Defiance Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder
  • Delinquency
(Minnesota Association for Children's Mental Health, Gervais, 214)

Tips for Handling A Liar in the Classroom!

  1. Role play: read stories and talk about what is the difference between a story and reality (Knight).
  2. Tell your students that it is hard to tell the truth. Share with them that it won't be easy but that it won't hurt them in the end (Knight).
  3. Create a safe and secure classroom environment (Knight).
  4. Model for your students-do not lie yourself (Knight)!
  5. Teach the basic values and morals in the classroom; This is a a tricky one. You need to make sure that you are teaching in general terms, not teaching you're own morals. There are curriculums that can be found to teach lying that are basic and could be implemented in your classroom and are cross-curricular (Petress, 334, 335).
  6. Discuss all sides of the story (proposed lie) from each persons view. If a child hit a fellow student and then proclaimed that they did not, talk with them about what hitting looks like in the classroom so there is no "gray area" (Curwin, 1).
  7. If a student were to lie in the middle of your lesson, do not stop and address them in front of everyone then. You want to keep the momentum of your lesson going and stopping your whole class in the middle of your lesson to address one student can hurt your other students as well as give attention to the liar (could be one of the possible desired outcomes). Quietly tell them that it is not ok to tell a lie and that you will talk with them after the lesson. Redirect and keep your lesson going!
  8. If your student is lying often and fits under the criteria of a pathological/chronic liar, take data. If this occurs, there will need to be extra support for the student such as a psychologist or a counselor. If you as the educator have information to give the paraprofessionals about your student, it could help them in aiding that child.
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As teachers, it is important to remember that there is a reason our students behave and participate in the activities that they do. It is our job to dig deeper and find out these reasons. From an early age, in our society, it is encouraged to tell white lies to spare other peoples feeling (Lee, 92). Could it be sending the wrong message and confusing students about lying? We can partner with parents to teach students about honesty and the importance of telling the truth(Petress, 335). Lastly, it is prudent that you see the child first and then the behavior. We must love each and every one of our students because sometimes school is the only place they feel safe. Sometimes school may be the only place that they get a hot meal or a hug. As teachers, we can have a positive impact on our students and truly make a difference in their lives.


Dolan, Mairead. Psychopathic personality in young people.

Fries, Amy. Understanding pathological liars.

Gervais, et al. Children's persistent lying, gender differences, and disruptive behaviors: A longitudinal perspective.

Katz, Dian. Lies and compulsive liars.

Lee, Kang. Little Liars: Development of verbal deception in children.

Marksteiner, et al. Bullying, cheating, deceiving: teachers' perception of deceitful situations at school.

Minnesota Association for Children's Mental Health. Classroom fact sheet.

Peterson, et al. Developmental changes in ideas about lying.

Petress, Ken. Some thoughts about deception.