What to do when kids lie?

For the first time that I can remember, I caught my 8-year-old daughter in a lie last week!

She cut her own hair while I was at the hospital  and my father was babysitting. At first she denied that it was cut at all, then she told me the baby cut her hair. She stuck with that story for a while and then finally, finally she admitted she had cut her own hair!

I always have a hard time punishing Rose. It’s hard to find something she really cares about to take away from her. Walsh is easy to punish. You take away his Legos or his video games or computer time and he feels his punishment severely. The baby every now and then will be put in timeout and she is the saddest little girl in timeout. She drops her little head and sits so forlorn in the corner. I know she understands she did something wrong.

I finally decided to take movies away from Rose for the week. She had been watching  “Princess Protection” and “Princess Diaries 2″ each day while the baby napped so I told her couldn’t watch them for the rest of the week.

I told her I was punishing her for lying, not for cutting her hair. I needed her to know she could have told me the truth about the hair and not lied to me. (Does that make sense?)

What have you caught your kids lying about? Do you punish for the offense and the lie? How do you convince them that it’s not worth lying? What are good punishments for different ages?

36 comments Add your comment

Jesse's Girl

July 20th, 2009
8:41 am

Rose is tryig to get your attention my friend. Punishment is in order..but you should also find out if she did it because her extra-smart brain is bored or because she is upset in her little 8 year old way that mommy has been at the hospital so much. The same thing happened with our oldest when I dropped everything to take car of a family member. She started hiding things that belonged to me….like my pearls and little trinkets that once belonged to my great-great grandmother. She knew this would get my attention….

I AM a schmuck...

July 20th, 2009
8:45 am

…who CAN count to 5, and Jessie’s Girl is right on target with this one!


July 20th, 2009
8:52 am

I agree with JG. She’s probably just bored and feeling the weight of your absence along with the stress of your brother’s hospitalization. She may not know what’s going on, but I’m sure she can sense the extra stress in the household. Maybe you need to have a little heart-to-heart and some special time together just the two of you.

But I don’t think that means you shouldn’t have punished her. She still did something wrong, and learning that our emotions do not justify doing something wrong is an important lesson for kids!

I was a habitual liar when I was a kid, and my parents battled with me for a couple years over it! I hated getting in trouble, so the more they punished me, the more I lied hoping to not get caught! What they finally found that worked was to tell me, “I’m going to give you 10 minutes to sit here and think about your answer. If you tell me the truth when I come back, we’ll pretend the first time never happened.” I stopped getting in trouble for lying and usually came clean with my second chance. Once I learned the consequences for telling the truth weren’t so bad, I gave up the lying.


July 20th, 2009
8:58 am

My 5 yr old has started lying this summer…from little white lies to big ol’ whoppers. He gets punished by being sent to his room without any toys in it…isolation can work wonders. We keep talking about the story of the boy who cried wolf to emphasize why it is important not too lie. I think he gets it, but he does like trying to push and see how far he can get away with stuff. I have told him I will always find out when he is lying and that he is much better off telling me the truth from the beginning. I know it is a stage they all go through at some point, but is so frustrating!

Jesse's Girl

July 20th, 2009
9:00 am

I always did luv a good schmuck!:)

new mom

July 20th, 2009
9:01 am

I would add that, if the original offense would have warranted a punishment on its own, I don’t think it’s wrong to punish them for both the offense and the lying. Even if it’s not two separate punishments but just double the length of time you take whatever item away. Make it clear that they are being punished for both, saying that they would only have one week of no movies instead of two if they hadn’t lied. That way, in the future they aren’t confessing everything, thinking ‘I won’t get any punishment as long as I don’t lie about it!’


July 20th, 2009
9:01 am

Taking away a toy or TV time is the consquence when my preschoolers lie. We have also started playing a “true or false” game in the car and reading stories about truthfulness (The Boy who Cried Wolf , The Empty Pot) to help them understand what it means to tell the truth.
I also try to make sure they are intentionally lying before I punish them. I ask something like, “Are you just pretending, or is that what really happened?” They don’t get in trouble for being imaginative, but they do for trying to be deceptive.


July 20th, 2009
9:17 am

Just wait until they’re teenagers. Then they won’t say much that isn’t a lie.


July 20th, 2009
9:22 am

I have a real problem with lying. I know all children test the waters for various reasons and mine did too.

There are adults today who are very flippant about lying but I have a problem trusting those who have lied to me, in the past. Some parents are modeling this behavior every day…I am NOT saying it is anyone on this blog.

With my kids, I “lied” to them: ” hey, guess what…we are going to Six Flags tomorrow…”
“we are having ice cream for breakfast tomorrow….” “your grandma is buying you a horse….”

Then, a few hours/days later…tell them the truth. They will be VERY disappointed but then will know how disappointed you were when they lied to you. “now do you see how Mommy felt….sometimes we do silly things but it is best if when we make a mistake….to tell the truth.”

Some children do not grasp a punishment ( which I do think is needed) but can understand the disappointment of being the recipient of a lie.

In my book, when someone lies to you…you are hurt or angry and if a child feels these emotions, they may be able to understand why lying is a slippery slope.

This is usually best for 4 year olds and up, as the reasoning skills may not be there for littler children.

Good luck and continued best wishes for your brother!


July 20th, 2009
9:24 am

@abc…this is a GREAT point…if you accommodate liars early, the stakes will be higher when they are older and driving your car or staying home alone ( with all their friends).

Jesse's Girl

July 20th, 2009
10:06 am

There’s a fine line there MJG. While I agree with you…if we, as parents, make too much of a spectacle when they lie….then we could be crossing over into a gray area. Will they learn the intended lesson or will they simply excel at hiding it? One could reach the point where not being caught is a better option than working with the truth. I am in no way saying a lie goes unpunished. But if every time they do…we prattle on like a book about the virtues of honesty…our intended lesson could fall on deaf ears.


July 20th, 2009
10:08 am

Well this is timely. My child who is 9 decided to lie about eating his sister’s candy. Mind you I saw him throw the wrapper in the trash, he was following her, when she came out to say someone eat her candy. We spanked him each time he wanted to lie to us. All he had to do was tell the truth, the only punishment then would be that he would have to buy her 3 pieces of candy for the one he took. But he wanted to be right. He wanted to be headstrong. In fact AFTER I told him I knew he did it and SAW him throw the wrapper away, then proceeded to tell his sister to get the wrapper out of the trash HE STILL lied. Good gracious. After a while he proceeded to round about tell the truth mixed up with another lie of course. This time he ate the candy but she told him she could have it. Which was another lie. I sent him to bed (it was bedtime anyway) told him he had to stay in his room the entire Saturday. Woke him up early gave him a t.v. tray, made him copy out of the Bible on what happens to liars, he had to tell me how he felt when he was getting in trouble, plus write whether lying helped him or hurt him worst. He still had to buy the extra candy (as if she needs any) plus he was fed all his meals in his room. My point was if you can so headstrong in believing the lie (he truely believed it so much I almost thought I was going crazy) then he was on the right track of being incarcerated and he should see how much that enviroment SUCKS.

Trust me this is not the first time this child has done this more like the second time to go on for so long. So we had to get drastic since he did not learn the first time. I can accept some constructive critics….so just tell me. He is not jealous of anyone and had more than enough attention. His only problem is he is Headstrong and HAS to be right about everything.


July 20th, 2009
10:44 am

When my child was younger and she told her first lie (that i am aware of) like you I took away her “prized” possessions. I then sat her down and told her that it wasn’t what she lied about that made me angry, but the fact that she told the lie. I then told her, always tell me the truth, and that as long as she told me the truth about a situation I wouldn’t punish her as severely or at all, but if she lied, she would not only be punished for the act but the lie as well. I can remember times when she was playing wildly and broke something I considered special. When I got home, I discovered it and she came to me and told me exactly what happened, and then quickly reminded me of the promise. I kept my word and it seems to have worked fairly well. Either that or she is really great at lying. I am going to remain positive and think that it is because she knows the consequences are alot worse if she lies about it.


July 20th, 2009
10:54 am

I agree with Jessie’s Girl, but that doesn’t negate the punishment for lying. And she shouldn’t learn that lying gets you more time with mom–that would reinforce it! She also shouldn’t learn that there is an “excuse” for lying (poor you, mom has been so busy, etc.) Be sure you are not giving her those reasons to continue!

I am a big fan of a lot of what John Rosemond says. I would take away her prized possessions and send her to be right after supper for a week or so. (Girls who lie need extra rest so they won’t do it again.) No sympathy.

You’ve GOT to be able to trust her, and if she doesn’t get that message now, at 8, your life will be h3ll when she is 14!


July 20th, 2009
11:31 am

When my daughter was in the 4th grade, she lied about a science project that was due. I knew it was coming up, of course, and we talked about what she was going to do a couple of times. But then it was a week before the due date, and she told me that, since the science teacher was out sick for a couple of weeks, the deadline had been pushed back. OK, I accepted that — I knew the teacher was out sick. Then, a couple of weeks later, when I inquired, she shrugged and said, “Oh, the teacher decided we didn’t have time to do it with the new section.” I didn’t think much about it, things were a little chaotic. Imagine my surprise when I had a parent-teacher conference a week or so later, and my daughter had flunked science — because she hadn’t turned in her science project! It turns out that the substitute teacher had been going nuts, trying to figure out what to do with my daughter not turning in the project, and had gone to my daughter’s lead teacher, who wisely said, “No, I know her mother — let Daughter hang herself!” (The teacher and I knew each other well, as she had had my son two years earlier.)

I walked out of that conference with a grim look in my eye, and my daughter took one look at me and literally wilted — she knew she had been caught. The episode resulted in our cancelling her birthday party, which had been planned for the next week, writing a letter of apology to her teachers for lying to them — and having to do the science project ANYWAY, even though she wasn’t going to get any credit for it. The consequences for that fib were a) flunking science (which resulted in no TV for the next grading period – ouch!), b) no birthday party, c) apologizing to the teachers and d) having to do the despised project. I am a big believer in “piling on” :-) That seemed to cure it for the most part — when she was a teenager, she never out-right LIED about anything — but she got very clever about telling me only what she wanted me to know, and I had to become a bit more insightful in order to navigate around some of her omissions. For example: “Who’s going to be at the party?” “Jane, Liz, Beth, Caroline and Jody.” Followed up by: “And the boys? . . . ” “Uh — Ryan, Michael, Travis . . ” “And . . .?” “I think Jeff (or the crush of the week) might be there?” “And if I stop by at 11 pm, who else might be there?” (Ah, the curse of having smart kids . . . ) I tended to supervise her a bit more closely! :-D My son never bothered lying — he is very rule-driven, and frankly, I was pretty easy-going with curfews, etc. — he never given me a reason not to trust him and his academics were great, and as a result, there wasn’t anything that was really worth lying about. That doesn’t mean he probably didn’t engage in a little “sins of omission” himself — but what I don’t know . . . :-)


July 20th, 2009
11:46 am

Catlady has it right! No excuses for lying and you need to take care of it now, before she hits those teen years!


July 20th, 2009
1:03 pm

All kids tell little white lies because they are afraid of getting caught and I think it’s normal – that does not necessarily mean it will go into adulthood. Even teenagers lie to avoid getting caught or to get away with something. As far as lying when they’re older, it depends on the relationship they have with their parents and if the parents are supportive or not as to whether they tell the truth. My son and I are very close and he tells me just about everything (even when I don’t want to know!) I wasn’t close to my mother so I never shared anything with her because I never expected her to understand.

[...] What to do when kids lie? Atlanta Journal Constitution – GA, USA I know it is a stage they all go through at some point, but is so frustrating! I would add that, if the original offense would have warranted a punishment … See all stories on this topic [...]


July 20th, 2009
2:28 pm

Double amen to catlady’s last line. I am with you 100% DB. Is anyone surprised….LOL.

I spoke at a conference in Minnesota and recently received my reviews.
I got a 4.8 out of 5, from over 200 participants, with all comments being tallied, for 3 workshops.

A few of the critics made a comment that ” she is very opinionated about parenting” ( there were a few parents there). Previously, I have had participants tell me that they love the way I “tell it like it is…no mincing words….”

Those of you with young children will do well to heed the advise of the older parents on the blog….not necessarily me…or find someone you now who has kids you admire and check in with them!

Older parents are farther down the sidewalk and thus have been though a few more thunderstorms.
Yes, you do have to pick your battles but if you ignore them all, you will be headed for WW III .


July 20th, 2009
2:56 pm

My oldest had an issue with lying the past. I always told him that the punishment for anything would be quite a bit worst if he lied about it.

We had a couple of serious talks about being able to trust him and his word. We tried to make it very clear to him that lying was going to make his life more difficult across the board. It might seem like it would your life easier because you might get out of a punishment but I wanted him to think about the long term consequences. I talked about things that he would not be able to do in the future if I couldn’t trust him because I thought he might lie to me. (like: stay home alone, drive my car when he’s older, go out with friends) I explained that even if he hadn’t done something wrong, if I was used to him lying about it, he might just get into trouble anyway since I wouldn’t believe his excuse. Basically, tried to make it clear that lying was a bad deal all around.

Since then he has gotten much, much better. He still lies occasionally as a first response, but he catches it and tells the truth. And he gets in less trouble so he sees the benefits of honesty.


July 20th, 2009
6:57 pm

My sister has children older than mine. She used to get so frustrated with them for lying. They would lie about silly stuff, like who did not put the cushions back on the couch the right way. That, in itself, was not a punishable crime. She would have just said, “Okay, please fix the cushions.” When they lied about it, though, they were punished. She had to drill it into their heads that it was not what they did, it was the lie. (She has very well-behaved children. I would say that besides the lying, they would probably rarely be punished. They would lie about stupid stuff, though. Leaving crumbs after eating…not feeding the dog…etc., etc.)


July 20th, 2009
7:24 pm

For those who do not know this, I am an educational consultant and generally speak to teachers who may also be parents. In my last post, I meant parents who were not teachers.


July 20th, 2009
10:41 pm

My son wrote his name under the switch plates in our house. He was 4 and the “N” was backwards each time. When I asked why he wrote his name on the walls, he denied it. I looked him square in the eyes and asked who did. His reply, “Daddy. He has the same name.” The kid never flinched. I did not make a big deal over it, but he had to scrub the walls until the names disappeared. I asked him again and he admitted it. As he got older, he learned to omit some key facts, but I felt that if we gave him enough rope, he’d hang himself and get caught. When he did, there was a consequence. Better to deal with it in the younger years than when they are older teenagers and out of sight most of the time. He used to tell elaborate stories or try to change the subject, now he simply states the facts and is off. The truth is easier and takes fewer words.


July 21st, 2009
1:17 am

I’ve got one thing to add. Don’t set your kids up to tell you a lie. If you ask, “Did you steal your sister’s candy?” (with an accusing tone)… The kid knows that if he answers yes, he will get in trouble based on your tone and body language. Instead, ask why he took the candy (if you already know the answer).

I also try to reinforce that if the children tell the truth, I will not be upset for telling me the truth.

I’ll let you know once the girl graduates HS in 6 years if I was successful in this dept. lol.


July 21st, 2009
6:46 am

nurse& mother….good points and I appreciate your last line.

You have a garden ( of children) and thus have tips but you have not completely harvested the crop. I am also in that boat, as mine are still 17 and 22. Other bloggers have been parents longer and with more children. I think their comments should be more valid.

I have 2 friends, both with grandchildren. I check in with them when I need to know something about parenting, as they have been on that sidewalk a LONG time.

Have a great day all…I am off to check out a college with my daughter.

Is JJ back yet? I spoke with one of my grandmother friends in PCB and she said the traffic is horrible…maybe JJ is stuck down there…not a bad idea!


July 21st, 2009
8:24 am

I can’t access today’s topic. Is anyone else having the same issue?


July 21st, 2009
8:46 am

I can’t open it either, MomsRule.

Theresa, is there something wrong on the AJC’s end or is it us?


July 21st, 2009
8:54 am

Nope…I can’t see todays topic either. :(


July 21st, 2009
9:40 am

…Theresa, get this fixed already!


July 21st, 2009
9:54 am

I can’t access it either.


July 21st, 2009
9:59 am

I cannot get into todays topic either.


July 21st, 2009
12:41 pm

I cannot get into today’s topic either….but my eldest started guitar at age 7. This year she wants to move to another instrument and play in Orchestra.

As to the lying topic (this page)well….that can be a tough one. There is the tried and true soap in the mouth I suppose. UGH UGH UGH. Mine usually respond well to no tv,movies,computer, music, or Nintendo.


July 21st, 2009
12:52 pm

OH my eldest asked her Dad a straightfoward question. He gave her an answer I knew to be a lie….She called me when she found out the truth and said it was a naughty trick, he had lied to her etc.

Then when she got home she gave me a hug and said “thank you for telling me the truth, even when I don’t like the answer.” What I found was to punish the lie &/or offense but to continue to be truthful to them and hold to what I promise.

Over the long haul they have learned they can depend on me to mean what I say and do what I promise. (That includes removing them from restaurants, cancelling outtings, in addition to the ‘good things’). I prefer to model the behavior I want to see.


July 21st, 2009
2:59 pm

This doesn’t exactly fit into the “lie” category, but when I went back to grad school (as a single parent) my children were 3, 8, and 12 years old. My son, aged 8, took his teacher aside and told her, “Now, you don’t need to be expecting me to do any homework this year, because now that my mom is back in graduate school I have to do all the housework.” After she reported this to me, he found out a great deal about how many more home chores were available for his free time AFTER he did his homework!

Parent of a teenager

July 22nd, 2009
11:35 am

I have a 17 y/o daughter…so punishment will be easy because there’s a lot she’s into. Well, this last lying occasion really made me mad! She told me she was scheduled to work but I later found out she wasn’t by simply calling her job to tell her to lock her doors before getting gas if she needed to. Well, to my dismay she decided to pick up her friends and hang out since she wasn’t working. She didn’t answer her phone until I texted her and told her I called her job. She instantly called back and stated it was a spare of the moment thing. She probably wouldn’t have gotten punished if she wouldn’t have lied about going to work and if she would have called. My husband took the car from her for the rest of the summer. I hope she has learned her lesson! But it feels like I am on the punishment…I have to now run her around to work and to friends house. This punishment was good for her age because it’s killing her not to be able to drive!


July 22nd, 2009
11:55 am

This blog is helping me to realize I need to craft strategies in advance to deal with my 9 year old’s recent spate of lying. Just this morning, he attempted to take his little brother’s Nintendo DS in his backpack to summer camp and lied he lied about it being in the backpack. Our rule is no electronics taken to school. He tried this earlier in the summer and lost his Nintendo DS privileges, which is why he took his brother’s. I was so angry. I lectured and his eyes welled up. I took the backpack and denied him the right to take any of the items in the backpack to summer camp, even the unobjectionable ones. I asked the camp counselor if he could stay back at the camp building today while the other kids went on a field trip to Chuck E Cheese. The counselor said there would be no one in the building so he must go. I was devising other punishments in my head but after reading this blog, I think I’ll take a different approach. More than anything, I want him to understand that he destroys trust everytime he lies.