16 answers

A 5 Year Old That Constantly Lies

I am about at wits end. I have a 5 year old little girl that has developed a lying problem. And I am out of ideas of how to fix it. Eventually she will tell us the truth but I have to sit and think how probable it is that she is telling the truth (about anything) and then ask her 4 or 5 times before she will admit the truth. I have tried just talking to her about it and explaining that what she is doing is wrong. I have tried the "it hurts mommys feelings when you lie" route. I have taken away toys, movie night, play time.... you name it. But it doesn't seem to be changing. She is now at the point that she is lying to her teacher, as well as just out right not listening. Me or my husband will tell her to do something and instead of doing it she will completely disregard it as though it were an option. I am so frusterated. I am pretty sure that it has something to do with the fact that I just recently went back to work after 16 mo at home, as well as we have a 15mo old boy. She loved him and never went through jealousy when he was real little, but it seems that she is a little now that he can walk and really play. I am just out of ideas on what to do for her. I've been trying to do more one on one time with her where she gets my full attention, but its really hard when I don't feel that she should be getting special treatment when she has been lying all day. Has anyone else had to do deal with this? and ideas?

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What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thank you to everyone that responded. I am working on some things right now. One being spending more one on one time with her, this is something that I realized that she needs but was just finding it hard to accomplish, but now I am forcing myself to find the time. Secondly I am going to try the lying thing. Something I probably would have never tried if a few of you hadn't suggested it, its a little different than the choices I usually make but right now I will try just about anything. I can deal with the lying at home, its the part at school that is the worst. or that she lies to me about things at school. its just been a hard road, hopefully it will start getting better from here.

Featured Answers

It does sound like she may be doing this to get attention--even though it's negative.
I would try two things--first a consistent punishment for lying: timeouts, no TV time, etc--just make it consistent with each lie.
Next (and more importantly) incorporate something positive for when she tells the truth right away. (I know this is hard--since you don't always know when she is doing this).
Maybe a sticker chart where she can earn so many and then get something big once she gets a certain number or a magnet chart where she can earn, but also have them taken away when she is caught lying. With her age you can also incorporate other activities with this such as chores, brushing her teeth, etc so you are no completely focusing on just her lying.
I think since she does seem to be doing this for attention though that incorporating some positive reinforcement in (which everyone likes more than negative) may help you! Just be creative and use things you know she likes...

Good luck!

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I started to have a problem with my 6 year old lying last year and what I came up with, is I told her that when she lies, there is a red dot that appears in the middle of her forehead that only mommy and daddy can see. A few days later she lied about something and I asked her if she was telling me the truth because I could see that the red light was starting to come on on her forehead. She quickly covered her head and said that she did lie. There are times that she'll put her hair in front of her face to cover her forehead when she tries to tell me that her brother started a fight with her and I know she was the one to start. I told a few co-workers about this and they used it on their kids and they said it worked for them too. They chose a different color, but all in all it seems to work - for how much longer, I don't know, but for now it is.

You might try talking to your daughter to see why she's lying. How does she feel? Does she do it becasue she doesnt like what will happen if she tells you the truth?

Wish you the best of luck on this,
D. C

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Before I begin I want to say that I don't have much time to be soft and sweet here, so I'm just going to lay out my thoughts. Don't take them as an attack, just as plain language OK? There is no hostility here.

She's 5 yrs old. Let's look at how her life has changed. You had another kid after almost 3 yrs of being fulltime princess of her home. Now you've put her in daycare and gone back to work. And I know this rankles everyone but I'm going to say it anyway, kids DON'T LIKE DAYCARE. She had been home with her mommy and now she's dropped everyday at some jungle with a bunch of other kids and rotating care workers. That's a HUGE thing to deal with. Can you imagine if your husband came home and told you "hey, yeah well I've been thinking about it and uh...well there are other things I'd rather be doing than being here with you and the kids so I'm going to go do them and I'll see you about 4 hours a day. But don't you worry...those 4 hours they are going to be QUALITY time!" How would you react? Not well I'd guess.

Do not forget that your 5 yr old thinks the sun rises and sets on her. She is the cause of all that happens in the world. That egocentrism is normal. She's not going to be able to look at you going back to work as anything but not wanting to spend any time with her. She can't see you need the money to pay bills, or you are bored, or whatever the reason is. That's just beyond her ability. She will see the situation through the filter of her own needs. That's what 5 yr olds do. SO, here's the point of all of this. For some kids, (and dogs, and adults too) negative attention is better than no attention. Also, she may be thinking that if she were a more interesting child you might want to be with her more. So she lies. Either to make sense of what has happened to her life, or because if she's being yelled at, at least you are paying attention to her.

Now don't take this as an attack. I say all of this because I think you need to shift your focus off of YOU and your perspective and try to see the world from her POV to get to the bottom of this and fix it. (I work with dogs, and I have more owners than I can count that tell me what their dog is thinking when the dog does something the owner doesn't like and they are ALWAYS wrong. They ascribe behavior to the dog that is focused on them. "Fluffy counter surfs because she wants to make me mad." Uh no. Fluffy counter surfs because you left cupcakes on the edge of the counter and she wanted to eat them. See the difference?)

So the first thing you need to do is lay off your kid for a while. Punishment DOES NOT WORK. It does not result in predictable changes in behavior. You can make her fear you and alter her behavior because you have made her miserable but that doesn't mean she will stop the behavior. She will just work on not getting caught by you and really, do you want a relationship with your daughter that is based on her fearing you? I wouldn't think so. I think were this my child here is my plan for changing the behavior...

1.) Quit work and stay home with my kids
2.) If that's not something you are willing to do then make sure she is getting A LOT of attention at home.
3.) Ignore the lying and reward ANYTHING that is not the behavior you are trying to extinguish. (Here's a behavioral truth, behavior persists as long as it gets a reaction the person or animal wants. As soon as a behavior elicts nothing, the behavior will stop.) So what does that look like? Your daughter tells some lie about her shoes. You ignore it. You ask her to get you a bowl and "help" you cook dinner. As SOON AS (and I mean AS SOON AS) she engages in helping you, you praise her for it. Being mindful to praise the effort not the behavior. For example "I like how you are always willing to help other people. That's really nice." Not "You are a good helper." It's a subtle difference but it makes a HUGE difference down the road. Praising the effort makes her a happy kid, praising the result makes her a perfectionist. You don't want that.
4.) Talk to the daycare and find out what they are doing with this behavior and let them know you don't want her punished for it. That's not going to help her feel safe and secure at the place she spends most of her time.

I think if you do this, you'll see some change but just be aware that change doesn't happen overnight and she may have lapses in her behavior. Just ignore the whole lying thing. (It's also pretty normal for that age too so I wouldn't freak about it.) If it's something you need to know then keep reframing the question without value judgements until she feels safe enough to tell you the truth. But no doubt she's now worrying all the time that you don't love her because she's in daycare and when she's home she's being punished all the time. Relax and let her enjoy what little time she has at home with you and make sure she's getting ACTUAL time with you. Not just you sitting with her in the same room. Making dinner is a good way to spend time that is meaningful. But really, if you just stop everytime you get worked up over something and say "What is she trying to say/get/solve with this behavior" I bet you'll be able to change it quickly. You just have to remember she's 5 and has limited understanding of why she does what she does. When she says "I don't know!" when you ask her why she does something, she really doesn't know.

Good luck!

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I am the mother of 7 children and have had this problem several times. I know it seems cruel but the advice to "lie" to the child is really the best. They realy don't grasp why or what they are doing is bad, so until they know they can't change it. My third child who is 6 started this right before she turned 5. After I told her she could go to her friends house for a play date and then didn't let her and told her I lied, she got it. After she stopped crying I told her that was the same way I felt when she told me her brother hit her, but hadn't or that she had made her bed when she hadn't. I made her tell me what she felt. It did not stop overnight, but each time after that she would say to me when she got caught "Sorry mom I know i made you feel sad like you did to me when I couldn't go to Giana's house". It was only about 1 week before we noticed a big differance. I hope this helps and that you can start enjoying your daughter again. :)
the busy mom of 7

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Hi D.!
My 5 year old says "yes" quickly when I've asked if she brushed her teeth or changed her underwear. We are working on what exactly is a "lie." But I read Karen (?) -- the long email......and yes, it was a bit blunt -- but there was so much truth in it I want to copy it and send it out across the web. YOU are not the only parent (me included) who takes it personal when our little kids have bad habits. In fact, just today, I chose our middle child who has been having problems getting along with her siblings....and even though she hasn't had stellar behavior lately -- each day is a new day, and I was desperate to find her behaving well. The moment I saw her share a toy -- BAM -- YOU get to go food shopping with Daddy. I ignore some bad behavior that I just know is for my attention.........and I try so very hard to catch her being good and ask her for help with dinner -- as I do with my other children. One day after acting out and disregarding what I asked her.......I took a timeout while she was in her room timing out as well.....and then I asked her, what in the world is going on? bad day at school? the tears came out and she was scolded by the teacher for running while she was the line leader. the teacher was going to take away this "prestigious" very valued position if she ran again. But my daughter felt she had to run because a boy challenged her to a race. Tough life being 5 years old. And we don't see it. Plus, if you've returned to work and having a sibling, and all the other changes in her life.......plus, your obviously not feeling warm & fuzzy toward her because of her actions....kids sense that.......and I am going through the same exact thing so don't beat yourself up. Just think it through -- stay positive and reward your children with what they want most from us all the time -- our undivided attention and praise that they are good children & do many things well and the sun rises and sets on them -- and we love them -- love them -- love them. (the world is a tough place and we have to make our homes are loving & safe)
i'm rereading and rereading karen's input
really great advice to hang on the refrigerator even
to remember!
number 1 way to raise an emotionally happy child
an abundance of hugs & kisses and cuddle time!

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Before I write my opinions, I just want to point out that one of the links given by another poster giving information about this issue had a lot of very good information that is well worth reading through. The post had 2 links and I think the top one was the most informative. So if you missed it you may want to go back and take another look.

As several have said she is 5 and her lying is normal behavior. She probably does not have a full concept of truth, lies, reality, and fantasy, even if you have explained it to her. Some of it is probably an attempt at attention. Negative or positive attention are probably not at the top of her concerns, just attention. She may even think her lies will result in some positive attention if they are believed, or if she believes them. Buy the way, if she says something that isn't true but believes it is true then it is not a lie. Lies are intentional. At 5 things in the world can be very different then they appear to us, so don't assume she has a good concept of what she is doing in your eyes.

I told my daughter when she was about 2, about lies, truth, mistakes, accidents, and the similarities and differences between them. I discuss this with her frequently and also give her example situations and ask her if what I described was a lie, the truth, or a mistake. I do this fairly regularly. I also let her know that lying isn't right, that it hurts, others, makes those lying seem untrustworthy, and will make her feel guilty. She still lies at times, sometimes more than others. But I realize that it is probably either because she wants to sound important, wants to tell creative stories (this is a good thing in my opinion), wants more attention, or is afraid of getting in trouble for the truth. I think you need to try to asses why they are lying, for each situation and react for that situation. If I think she just wants to sound important, I may tell her that it sounds like she is stretching things a bit. If she wants to tell stories I just try to explain to her that it's ok to tell stories but that she should let others know that it's a story, not real, or she can say she made a mistake if she said it was true before, even though it wasn't. If she continues to insist the story is true, then I usually tell her that it doesn't sound right or it sounds like she's stretching the truth. If I think it's an attempt at attention for something I don't want to give attention for, I may say something like sure, right, or I don't think so, then I stop talking to her and maybe even go into another room to do something else. If she is trying to avoid trouble, repremand, or dissaproval, then I try to explain that she needs to be honest, that lying will make things worse for everyone, and it is ok to change her mind about what she said. Then I remind her that lying isn't good, it hurts her and others, and that her and God know the truth and she should consider that.

I usually try to keep my responses short and simple, with very little reaction to keep off some of that attention she wants. The only time I might give a bit more attention to her lie is if I think she is saying hurtful things, or blaming others, then I try to give that more direct attention in pushing the idea that her lies are being hurtful.

The other thing I do is try to notice the good things she does, and honesty she uses and let her know that I really admire that, and explain why her actions were good, helpful, etc. Find lots of those positives, those things that make you proud, those things she really tried hard on, things she's improved on, trouble she's abstained from and really let her know how you feel and that those are real accomplishments. You don't have to go overboard, you don't need forced praise that hasn't been earned, or isn't genuine, but you need real genuine praise, cause most kids can tell when you are just faking it or going through the motions. Plus, that real genuine, prideful praise is so much better then not so genuine praise, for you and for her.

I think buy drawing very little attention to the lies, and buy giving positive attention and praise to the positives, that should automatically give her attention she's looking for while reducing her desire to draw attention to herself buy lying.

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I've never been through this personally but I have heard from my sister, mother of three a solution that worked for her. It is a little unorthodox and maybe not seem right but I know when I'm out things to try I'm up for almost anything. Its kind of like reverse physcology, tell her you are going to do something then don't, and when she asks why tell her, you lied. Hopefully it will help her understand why it isn't right to lie. For instance say if you do this we can go get ice cream and then when her chore or whatever is done and she asks for the reward say no, she will ask why and you say I lied. It may seem a little cruel but she may actually grasp the understanding of why you don't want her lying to her because it upsets her. Just a suggestion and you may feel she is too young to grasp something so complex or even that it is cruel but I know it worked for two of my three nieces the third hasn't come to this point yet. Good Luck and god bless I hope you find the advice that works for your parenting style and childs learning style.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics states lying is deceitful after age 6 since a child that age can differentiate between reality & fantasy. See link for further discussion and advice.
(link http://www.aap.org/publiced/BK5_Lying.htm)
My pediatrician also adviced me that 5 years olds have an intense desire to be right & cannot admit they're wrong. Much like the advice in AAP, she said to state the truth but don't make a big deal about it. When my son was 5, he "lied" constantly and became extremely upset if you said he was wrong. I backed off knowing it was a stage and not a moral lesson I had to get through to him. He's 6 & 1/2 now & we can have a discussion about lying, telling the truth, & right & wrong. He's capable of fully understanding the differences.

Simply put, true lying doesn't occur until age 6. Know that your daughter needs to feel right even when she isn't to build self-confidence. You'll waste too much effort making her acknowledge something she can't.

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It could also be her age. My nephew would make up things like he had a soccer tournament and won the big trophy even though he never played soccer a day in his life.

She may not understand the term lie.

Try explaining to her when it is okay to tell stories, such as story time, playtime playing make believe.. etc.

What is it when we watch tv? It's all make believe. None of it is true. It all says to imagine and play make believe and come with them to this place in the tv. Children understand that, it's us who under estimates their comprehension.

My son started punching because he thought he was playing ...it is what he saw on THE DISNEY channel in kim possible! Daddy had to sit down and really talk with him about what happened. Of course our first reaction was how could you? But then my 3 year old said, "I'm sorry. I was playing with Abby. I though it was play."

How bad did we feel? Nonetheless, it still needed to stop.

The problem with punishing at this point IN MY OPINION is that children are extremely imaginative, something we forget as adults. Their view of reality and our view is not the same.

I say this because I remember much of my childhood. Going on a train ride at age 4, we were on a magical train to see Santa Clause. I was only on the train four minutes and got sick as soon as we started moving, they kicked me off, I stayed on the side of the train tracks ALONE at age 4 until mommy came and got me.

In reality: It was the sanford train, I'd been on the train for hours, and my mom took a VERY long time to get there over an hour and a half. There were no seats lined in gold as I recall and there was no tea served, which I also remember. I was never left alone, just thought I was.

Hopefully you see what I'm getting at. You are blessed that your child is imaginative. Do not ignore her, and keep asking the right questions until you are able to put the whole story together.

Children learn how to be deceptive, but it's not always an intentional act.

I feel for you and hope that you are able to work through this stage. It's gonna be a while.


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I just wanted to say Hi, I have 4 kids & I have yet to figure out the lying thing. My 13 year old spent the whole of last year lying to us, to the point we to him to a therapist & they put him on ADD meds. I do not know if that was the cure, or the fact that we took everything he liked away every time we caught him lying or maybe just the difference a year of maturity made, but we do not have half the lying we use to. Either that or he's gotten better at it than we are at detecting it.

I also have a 10 year old who is starting it now. I am hoping she does not do it for very long.

My 4 year old twins, they lie about things like who hit who, but I have not had any real issue. Thank goodness.

I know I am not giving you any advice (only because I am at a loss also) but I wanted you to know that you are not alone in this struggle. I hope some of the other advise you get helps all of us.

Good Luck & God Bless

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Hi, there are several good articles (theories) out there. This one is from Babycenter. Do a google search and you'll see quite a bit.



I know it must be frustrating but hang in there. Try Google.

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Unless the lie could be life threatening; when she tell you a lie just say nice, then walk away. If it is about a neighbor or non family member thake to them to tell them what she said, notify the person first so thry know what is going on.

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I am a working mom of 2 children, a 4 yr old son and an 8 mo. old girl. I am starting to get an inkling of the "lying" but my husband and I trade off special attention time for him so I think we are deterring, so far, the sense of insecurity in him. I think attention is definitely a key factor missing. She is having "trust" issues with change. Lying means they cannot trust the individual that they are communicating with to process the information in a less demeaning or attentive manner. Since there is now shared attention, they don't want the spotlight on them and think they can get away with freestyle living ! More one on one attention is demanded in order to reverse the behaviour. Which is difficult for us when our nerves are already shot juggling 2 children in a 2 working parents household. Be the firm parent, trust the consequences you enforce, be patient. Children really do seek guidance even as they fight it. Even in infants, minimum change requires over a week to notice. It would be helpful if you have complete support in enforcement. That is a problem in my household as my husband is usually against any discipline of any sort, including time out. My child watches us arguing about parenting instead of us dealing with the situation at hand. But that's another topic. Please share any other advice you get on this topic so that I can add to my understanding. Good Luck

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We went through this with my daughter. My husband is the stricter disciplinarian so I followed his lead. We basically showed her that once you lie, people will find it hard to trust anything you say. I'd tell her to go brush her teeth and then even though I knew for sure that she had brushed them, I'd say it again... "Go brush your teeth." She'd tell me she already brushed them. So I'd say, "I'm not sure if you're telling the truth or not, so go brush them again just to be sure." We did things like this relentlessly until she got it that once you tell lies people won't believe you even when you tell the truth-- sort of like a reality version of explaining The Boy Who Cried Wolf. She gets it now... and when she starts to tell a lie, she says "just kidding" and tells the truth.

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I think that the "intention" for your daughter to lie is benign, meaning that her idea of what she is doing doesn't hold the same meaning as it does to an adult. It is also a phase typical of her age. It probably started as an attention getter. My concern is that now she may feel like she is a "bad girl" which affects her self-image now and in the future. I would pretty much ignore future story telling and concentrate more on why she is such a good, special girl, emphasizing her natural attributes. It's amazing how small children will eventually become the people you tell them they are--if you re-inforce anything positive, they'll become more positive; re-inforce the negative, and they become the negative. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

It does sound like she may be doing this to get attention--even though it's negative.
I would try two things--first a consistent punishment for lying: timeouts, no TV time, etc--just make it consistent with each lie.
Next (and more importantly) incorporate something positive for when she tells the truth right away. (I know this is hard--since you don't always know when she is doing this).
Maybe a sticker chart where she can earn so many and then get something big once she gets a certain number or a magnet chart where she can earn, but also have them taken away when she is caught lying. With her age you can also incorporate other activities with this such as chores, brushing her teeth, etc so you are no completely focusing on just her lying.
I think since she does seem to be doing this for attention though that incorporating some positive reinforcement in (which everyone likes more than negative) may help you! Just be creative and use things you know she likes...

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

my daughter went thru the phase and it is just that don't try to guilt her at that age it doesn't work, what i did was tell her that telling the truth gets her in far less trouble then telling a lie telling the truth only gets discipline for the issue she did but lying gets her into trouble not only for what she did but also lying. it worked for us, we tried spanking and almost everything under the starts the best we came up with was grounding her to her room, she can color or read that is it for the day, she hates that lose of freedom.

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