20 answers

My 3 Year Old Lies

I have a three year old, almost four, and she tells lies all the time, I'm having a hard time explaining exactly what a lie is and why not to do it. She will do things like push her sister and when I ask her why she lies and says she didn't do it, even though I just saw her do it. So any suggestions on how to teach her not to? I am at a total loss

What can I do next?

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A full time Mom and work full time? HMMMMMM sounds like she needs attention.......I'd not argue with her....state the fact---give her a consequence instead of talking till you blue in the face.........

You may want to try looking for some books at the library. My son has one of the Beranstein Bears books "The Truth". This has relped him understand what lying is. He still does it occasionally and he gets a timeout for it.

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This problem was on Supernanny last night. It's great that you want your young child to understand, and it's better that she learn now before it gets out of hand.

She is old enough that you can say something like,
"Saying something that is not true is telling a lie. That means if I say my shirt is red and it is really blue, that is a lie. If I say I didn't touch someone but I really did touch them, then that is a lie. When you say that you didn't push your sister, but you really did, then that is a lie. When you tell a lie, you will have to sit on the naughty stair for extra time."

If you have a belief in God or Christ in your home, you can further reinforce that there are some behaviors that make Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ feel happy and some behaviors that make them feel sad about our choices. Telling a lie is something that makes them feel sad because God and Jesus teach us through scripture that truth is important.

After that, you are the one who enforces time out or your form of discipline. You can trust your instinct when you don't see what happens. Good luck!

A three year old really doesn't know what a lie is, at least not like adults do. Self preservation thats different, she knows that the action was bad, hence the "lie". With mine I just say "I saw you push your sister, and you knew it was bad, but when you said you didn't do it, you told me a lie, and a lie is not the truth so lets try to not lie or you will get in trouble for the lie and for pushing sister" this is repetitive and I stae it slowly so the can absorb the information, but once I am sure they understand what a lie is they get a consequence for it plus whatever they did that was wrong. It doesn't happen overnight and come gradually to them, just take a breath and know that she isn't intentionaly trying to lie, and as lots of parents say.....this to shall pass!

In general, 3 year olds are not equiped with the capacity to understand truth versus lying and especially WHY lying is wrong. So the first thing is to be patient.
But, don't give up and accept her lies. Gently explain that what she is telling you is not what really happened and that you her to tell you what really happened (she may still not be able to because she is still figuring out fact vs fantasy). Let her know what you saw, and deliver appropriate consequences for misbehavior. But at this point I really don't think that there would be any benefit to punishing the lying itself - if she can't understand that it's wrong (other than you said so) she won't understand why she's being punished. In the next few years she will begin to understand it more. Continue to have discussions about telling the truth (and not always just when you catch her lying) and when she is ready you will probably see the light go on.
Finally, set a good example. NEVER lie around her or to her, because what you do is much more powerful than what you do.

(My background: I am a mother of 3. I have a degree in Human Development and am a Kindergarten teacher)

When my daughter went through this stage, my husband got really upset. He made it clear that lying was way worse than anything else. He talked to her about trust. It's important to be able to trust your family. he told her that being able to trust her was more important than anything else. She knew it made mom and dad very sad when she lied.

my daughter's punishment for lying was always worse than her punishment for the thing she'd lied about.

Additionally, we didn't ask her questions that made her feel like she had to lie. like - "did you do it?" when you already know the answer. There's no good answer to "why did you do that?" instead we'd say 'awww. that made your sister sad - go tell her you're sorry and give her a hug'. If she did lie, I'd either say "did you mean to say something else?" or remind her that we don't tell lies and ask if she wants to try again.

she was pretty young, and it took patience, but the lesson was worth it in the end.

Along with the advice the others have provided, I would look at the cause of the action. Why is she pushing her sister? Try to eliminate cause of action. Is she seeking your attention? You said you work full time, maybe she finds this is the best way to get your attention quickly when you get home. Look at what precedes the incident...then you can help her understand a better way of dealing with her emotions.

A., dear, one thing is certain: a three years old brain is totally incapable of answering the question: WHY. this is beyond their capabilities at this age. I would not ask any questions, but affirm what I saw: "Honey, you pushed your sister and she hurts!!!! Are you happy when you get hurt?" She will probably say no. Then suggest her not to hurt others. Keep the conversation very simple, and loving. Always show her how much you love her! She might do it out of jealousy also, as you take more care about the little one as she needs to be picked up, held on the lap and so on. Then, the elder one feels abandoned. You have enough space for two of them on your lap, make sure when the elder is in the room and you need to take care of the little one, that the elder girl feels as happy and being cared for also. To do that, there is one 'trick': I made my elder son feel very important by telling him that I absolutely need his help to raise a good friend for him (his younger brother, 2 years younger), and I asked the elder son to help feeding him, folding his clothes, walk quietly when the little one was asleep, hug him a lot and so on, you know little tiny things that she (4 yrs. old) can do and feel important, responsible,happy with you. This takes a lot of feeling left out and abandoned away. Then, you praise her for what she helped you with, invite her into being your friend and little helper, not just another big girl who is not so little to need so much attention as the smaller one does... you know what I mean...? there are tons of things along the road that you can incorporate into this main formula and approach. Maybe, she will quit pushing the little one, and feel much happier, not needing to do things that are nice, to just get your attention! Good luck, A., and be happy, all!

Hi A.!

My son used to be a chronic liar for no apparent reason that I know of. We would always discipline him for it no matter what, however, it seemed like nothing worked. Then we took all of his Spiderman stuff (which was dear to him) away and finally saw some success. We prayed so hard about it not wanting him to grow up to be a liar. Bottom line...I think consistency is key-ALWAYS a consequence for lying and finding the button. Everyone has a button-whether it's Spiderman stuff, sitting on their beds, spankings, whatever... We as parents just have to find out what is dear to our little ones' hearts. I know if you keep looking and being consistent you'll find out her button!


Turns out that telling lies is a natural developmental stage.

Think about it, if we went through our lives telling the ABSOLUTE truth in every circumstance, we'd be pretty odd and might not have very many friends. We tell little fibs about how we really and what we really think so as not to hurt other people's feelings. That's a normal part of our culture.

Your 3 yr old is learning to navigate through the mine field of cultural lying and our obsession with "honesty" (even though none of us really are completely honest). It's pretty confusing for a little brain.

Good luck!


My three year old has just started realizing that he can say an answer that is not the truth, but he doesn't understand the concept of lying. Doesn't this sound weird? Just as kids begin to figure out that they can do things alternatively than the way they're presented (like wearing a hat on their knee, or driving a car without wheels) they're trying out using language that isn't the usual method of communicating. The first time a kid lies is the first time they're presented with the language of "truth" and "lie." Take a step back and remember the language you've used up to this point, such as when they do something against your instruction (You're in trouble because you ran when I said walk.) and use it for this situation, (You're in trouble because you said No and you really did do it.) Then look at how you introduce new vocabulary (This is called a zebra. It's not a horse.), then use this same method to introduce the new concept of lying. (This is called lying. This is not a good way to answer someone.)

When the concept of lying really kicks in, then you will be able to treat it as a deliberate use of deception. For now, though, the whole idea is just a game.

Three year olds are just on the cusp of learning about the truth but my three year old son does know what a lie is. If you catch her in the act, ask her, then if she lies you need to be very stern and say, "that is called a "lie", I saw you push your sister", now punish her for both infractions.

I tell me kids since day one, you need to be honest, you may get into a little bit of trouble for what you did but if you lie about it you will get into A LOT Of trouble. Explain about honesty and why it is important she is honest. Ask her maybe two times, the second time saying "I am giving you a chance to tell me what really happened"..reward her with hugs for telling the truth when she does and say "thank you for telling me the truth, now you know you shouldn't push your sister and need to go sit into time out for a few minutes"...
My three year old has picked up on me dealing with his six year old sister with lying and he has picked up the concept quite quickly. When I know he lies I will ask him a second time and say "is that what really happened?" or I will say "you need to tell me the truth even if you are worried about getting into trouble".
Then about five years of age, becomes the fine line between them "kidding" and lies, or at least I had to get through that. Just explaining as you go, have consequences for lying on top of the infraction they lied about and stay consistent. Make a positive deal out of when they do tell the truth for reinforcment.

Hello A., You might like to read, "How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk," by Faber and Mazlish. They give insight into behaviors, like lying, and skills to respond effectively. Enjoy the journey... ~T.

Around that age, to teach our son what a lie was, we first taught and made sure that he knew what the truth was. So, I would say, "Your shirt is blue today" and then ask him if that was true. He would answer yes or no based on what he was wearing. If it was true, I would repeat it and say, "yes, that's true (or the truth)". If it wasn't, I would say, "no, that's not true (and eventually that's a lie)". It took a while, and progressing through more complex facts, but he got it. Then we gave him the family expectation that we always tell the truth in our family. I also used one of the Veggie Tales books, "The Slob Father", that dealt with lying. We had fun with that one.

You may want to try looking for some books at the library. My son has one of the Beranstein Bears books "The Truth". This has relped him understand what lying is. He still does it occasionally and he gets a timeout for it.

One of the things I have told my children is to "Tell the truth". make sure you are using positive reinforce ment. They are always testing their boundries. If you would liike to chat, please feel free to contact me.

Have you truly given her permission to tell you the truth?
When she pushes her sister, does she feel she can be honest about why she is doing it? It has been my experience that child begin to lie because the have a lot of emotions that they feel are inappropriate.
As far as explaining what a lie is... Lying is an abstract concept, but you can give her examples. Have a toy in your hand and say "I don't have a toy". and ask Is that true?
At this stage, your child is learning boundaries and unsure when they are crossed. Remember to be gentle when teaching this life lesson.

First of all, this is totally developmentally normal. Second of all, your daughter is not lying to be deceptive. She isn't capable of that yet. She is telling you what she thinks you want to hear, even if you saw her do something different. That doesn't occur to her. So don't punish her at this point. She won't know why she's being punished. What I always did with my son is kept questioning him. Say things like, "is that really what happened?" or "why don't you tell again, but this time tell the truth." Then explain that when you say you didn't do something that you really did do, that's a lie. Help her understand what a lie is and what the truth is and that it is better to tell the truth. When my son tells me the truth, I thank him for doing it and then we talk about if there is a consequence for whatever he did. My son is 4 1/2 and he's just starting to get it about truth and lies. Make it a lesson, and don't punish her at this point. Once she's more like 5, then she knows better. But right now she doesn't. Get some books about telling the truth to help her learn. And talk about it when she hasn't told a lie. Make it a discussion you just have at bedtime or in the car, that way she'll know it's okay to talk to you about anything. That will come in handy when she's a teenager.

My mom told us not to ask the kids why they did something. That helped our son a lot with lying. Also, we ask him what he did. It took him a while to be able to answer the question, so we would answer for him. The rule always was, as the first mom said, if you tell the truth, you get in trouble just for that. If you lie, you get in trouble for both infractions.

A full time Mom and work full time? HMMMMMM sounds like she needs attention.......I'd not argue with her....state the fact---give her a consequence instead of talking till you blue in the face.........

A drop of dish soap on her tounge will not hurt her and it will get your pint accross. Make sure taht you do this EVERY TIME she lies to you or anyone else. That should do the trick:)

When I explain about truth and lies, I've said "A lie is when you say somehing is so when it is not or something happened when it did not." Or something along those lines.

One of the books that helped us was the Aesop's fable, "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." What seems to have helped a lot is when I explain about why it is important to tell the truth -- trust and belief. That's why the fable helped. It shows in a more concrete way the consequences of lying -- people stop believing anything you say.

When I'm unsure if she is telling me the truth, I remind her about the "Boy Who Cried Wolf." It gives her a chance to change her story, if necessary.

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