HomeHealth & BehaviorEmotional Well-Being

Ask the Experts

How Can I Get My Tween to Stop Lying?

By Julia Taylor, Educational Consultant


I have a problem with my 11-year-old telling me lies. She is constantly making up stories. She is mad at someone or something everyday. I can't even talk to her without her getting defensive about what I say. She is very tall and also overweight, and the other kids pick on her. If I tell her not to eat a lot before dinner, she always tells me they had a bad lunch at school and she didn't eat anything. If I tell her to wait anyway, she gets mad and tells me I think she is fat! I know she is eating something at school but I never know if she is lying or not. If I don't let her eat, she will sneak food when I walk out of the kitchen. What can I do or say to help build her self-esteem? I have tried getting her in activities and she doesn't like them. She was in marching band but they aren't doing any games at this time. I could use some suggestions.


For these issues I wouldn't treat them as lying; the scope of the problem lies much deeper than telling the truth or not. It sounds like your daughter needs a serious self-esteem boost. There are a lot of activities that are not necessarily "athletic" that can help girls develop camaraderie with one another, build leadership skills and help girls with social skills. For example:

  • Girl Scouts (particularly if you find a fabulous troop leader)
  • The YMCA often has amazing leadership programs for middle-school students.
  • Girls on the Run is a national program that does involve exercise - but also includes a course of self-esteem building activities and group "counseling" type sessions about body image, friendships, etc.
  • Craft stores like AC Moore and Michael's often have jewelry-making classes, and places like "Paint your own Pottery" offer the same for teenagers.
  • If she likes children, she could sign up for a baby-sitting course and start out volunteering at a local church or synagogue.

In terms of your relationship with her, I would steer away from hiding food or making comments all together. If you are concerned about her eating too many foods that are not nutritious (nothing is "bad" in moderation), I suggest keeping a low stock on those foods and having plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and good sources of whole grains around the house. Portion them out in snack-sized bags and have them readily available. Grocery stores like Whole Foods Market have grocery store tours that you can sign up for, and they teach families about nutrition and how to shop for healthy foods on a budget.

Lastly, make sure your daughter has plenty of people in her life whom she can confide in. Talk to her teachers, school counselor, etc. Let them know what is going on and ask about her behavior when she is away from you. If she is having problems making friends, sometimes school employees can help in terms of involving her in an ambassador program, school leadership programs or different clubs where she can meet people who share similar interests. If you find yourself constantly worrying or feel she is a danger to herself or to others, please seek the immediate help of a professional counselor or doctor. It never hurts to have a professional opinion.

Julia Taylor is a professional school counselor for Wake County Public Schools in Raleigh, N.C.

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 readers

"I have the same problem with my 11 year old. I am a mother in desperate need of help. I do not think it is a weight fact, because my daughter is skinny and tall but the lying is outrageous. She literally lies about everything. I have enrolled in different clubs too-karate-swimming-afterschool-sculpting-she likes nothing she doesnt want to do nothing, and the lying is just getting worse. It is so hard."
"You might consider having a nutritionist come to your home and teach the whole family how to eat for health, or getting your family's doctor to give you materials on a healthy family eating plan. That way it is a family team building effort which would be a positive all around and not singling her eating out in a negative way. It's hard for me because my whole family likes snacks and has a sweet tooth, but I'm working on training myself when I'm in the store buying food for the family: to picture my kids eating what I'm getting ready to put in the basket: if I don't feel good about it, I just flatly put it back. An occasional small treat, bought individually still gets the happiness factor from everyone (trip to ice cream parlor or 'treat store' for qa special occasion) but I don't store a lot of it in the house causing fights over eating it. Good luck with your daughter. As a woman who has alwasy had to work on my weight and self esteem, I think it is so important that s! omeone at her age not learn to overly associate food with either happiness/comfort or a control isssue or fighting with you over it, but instead with practical biology of food, calories, nutrition. Had I learned that at a younger age, it would have helped me a lot, I think. All the best. "
"I had a similar problem with my daughter. She told tremendous and outragous lies. The more I punished the lies, the more she told them. I took her to a counselor who explained she was having a self-esteem crisis. I had tried to push her into things she did not want to do, and wasn't good at - which made it worse. She got involved with a few clubs at school (the book club and Robotics club) and slowly started coming out of her lying phase. She needed to feel good about herself and attention. "
"As a developmental psychologist, I view the presenting problem as a self-esteem issue and would address that prior to the lying. It appears that this girl is in need of approval, attention, and love. 'This article title is misleading in that it addresses a self-esteem issue more than a lying issue. 'Answer: For these issues I wouldn't treat them as lying...''"
"I agree, it sound a lot like a self-esteem issue and lack of mother daughter communication. If the lying continues, seek professional help. "
"Get outside and do something with her like bicycle riding, walking, yard work chores, walking a neighbors dog etc. Lying is a cry for attention - but if you don't even know if she is lying - pack her a lunch - and take time to talk to your daughter - she is precious and needs you now."
"This article title is misleading in that it addresses a self-esteem issue more than a lying issue. 'Answer: For these issues I wouldn't treat them as lying...'"