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Ask the Experts

How Can I Get My Child to Stop Lying?

By Dr. Lisa Hunter, Child Psychologist

Question:

How does one get a child to stop telling lies, for example denying she took something from someone else, and just boldly lying about it?

It's so difficult when one doesn't have actual proof but knows from past experience the child is deliberately lying, and one only wishes she didn't find this necessary. I know it's hard for one to admit to the truth, especially after lying about it, but this needs to be straightened out.

Answer:

Lying is a fairly common behavior in first-grade children. Children at this age may lie to get something they want, avoid punishment, protect their friends or get attention.

To help your daughter, it is important to determine what may be motivating her to lie. I would recommend closely observing your daughter's lying to see if it follows any pattern. If you determine that she is lying for a specific reason, you can then address that reason and hopefully, the lying will stop. For example, if she is lying because she wants things that her friends or siblings have, you could develop a plan that allows her to earn what she wants by demonstrating good behavior.

In addition to determining the underlying cause of your daughter's lying, it is important to talk to her about the importance of telling the truth, model being truthful in your home and have consistent consequences when she does lie. Try not to make your daughter feel guilty or ashamed when she does lie. You do not want to make her feel like she is a bad person because she lies. Rather, your goal is to help her figure out how she can get her needs met without lying.

For more information on lying in children check out Lying by the Center for Effective Parenting.


Dr. Lisa Hunter is an assistant professor in the department of child psychiatry at Columbia University and the director of school-based mental health programs at Columbia University's Center for the Advancement of Children's Mental Health. Her research focuses on the development, implementation, and evaluation of school-based mental health and prevention programs. In addition she is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. She specializes in cognitive behavioral treatment for children and adolescents.

 

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

01/5/2012:
"my three year old daughter always lie that her two yr old cosin hit her when he didnt.. and always says her imaganary friend told her to do that. how can i stop this "
12/6/2010:
"i have a 8 year old that lie to me about all most ever thing she lies about what she say to her dad about thing in school. I dont know what to do i have tryed ever thing.also if we do prase her she acks up even more can you help please."
09/24/2010:
"If the reason for lying is 'to avoid punishment', would you recommend guaranteeing to the child that they won't get punished as long as they tell the truth?"
11/2/2009:
"What do you do when you have a teenager who refuses to grow up? I have a 13 year old who just doesn't want to take responsibility for things, he lies about homework or things that he thinks he will get in trouble for (which in our house just means losing privileges) , and generally acts like an elementary school kid by crying when we talk to him about having done something wrong, and he doesn't like to finish ANYTHING. We've tried rewards, discussions, and punishments. Nothing seems to get through to him. He doesn't seem to want to mature past that of an elementary school kid when it comes to his interactions with adults. Although, when he's around other kids he can either be bossy (with younger kids) or quite mature with kids his age. He has slipped a few times and shown me his alter ego by cursing and having a nude picture on his hand held device. The conflicting sides don't make sense to me. Can you help??"
05/27/2009:
"Are you kidding??? This crap is exactly why kids act the way they do..Why shouldn't they feel guilty for lying? If they did something wrong they need to apoligize and have consequences!! Parents need to buckle down and actually start being parents, which includes discipline!! Children didn't act like this years ago when parents understood in order to raise responsible adults they need accountability. Now there's 10 year olds getting pregant, involved in school shootings, drugs, and just out right murder!! Maybe if these children knew how to deal with disappointment, instead of the parents trying to change how they parent to fix the situation, these things wouldn't be as common...When your child does something wrong, they need to have consequences!!! And yes, they should have a consious, Which includes feeling bad when they've done something wrong."
11/12/2008:
"My 11 yrs old child has been constantly lying which has lead to him stealing and being caught in school stealing. His lying has gotten so bad that ACS is now involved and he shows no remorse or concern when he gets caught. His excuse to me was 'It's just what I do.' Please help me."
08/6/2007:
"this is crap! My sister was raised on this theory and her stealing and lying cost my parents, my self and my brothers thousands of dollars and produced a young lady that cannot be trusted by her words or actions. My sister is and adult that still can't be trusted and has been fired from numerious jobs for stealing and lying. What I really fear is that my 12 year old daughter has the same traits as my sister. I don't know how to prevent my own daughter from turning out like my sister. She is 12, has no remorse or feeling of guilt and never apologizes for any wrong or pain that she has causes to others, espicially lying or stealing. This is not the daughter i raised. My 8 year old son is just the oposite, He asks permisson, speaks with proper respectect and never takes without asking. I love my daughter, but am calling the police if she does it again. she needs to know firmly that stealing is wrong and the legal punishment that goes along with it. I'm looking for answer and direction but haven't found anything yet."
11/21/2006:
"I found this article to be very informative with relation to my first grade daughter. The article couldn't have come at a more opportune time! She just spent her weekend on punishment for lying 5 days straight! For what I thought was no reason, until I read your article. I will now try to observe a pattern and counter the lying. My child is a good child and I don't want to make her feel bad about lying - so, thank you for your article!"
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