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What to Do About Children Lying to Their Parents

I have a 7 year old who has recently been caught lying on a number of issues. We have tried to tell her that under no circumstances, lying is not acceptable. Her punishment has been no dessert for a month, including dessert after lunch at school. I just looked on her lunch acct., which I have told her that I can access online, and found that she has been purchasing ice cream over the past week almost every day, the very same week that she started her punishment for lying. How should we handle this???

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I disagree with some of the other posts. A child shouldn't do the right thing because they get a reward; ei. ice cream. They should tell the truth and other good things because it is right in and of itself. A child should get punished when they are caught lying, stealing, cheating.....Explain what why it is wrong to lie..(the story of the boy who cried wolf), why it is wrong to steal and so on. Then send the child to their room. Take away computer priveldges. No more video games and so on until your child understands the ramifications for her actions. She is old enough to understand right from wrong, and to follow through with the right. I'm not pretending it will be easy. You have to be on her all the time. But it is our job as parents to form our children into Good adults. Good Luck!!!!

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Adjust her school account to "lunch only", "no extras". Then sit her down and tell her how much it hurts your feelings that after you asked her to be honest and during a punishment she continued to lie. Then set a new punishment...one that she can'y get around...cancel an up coming playdate or rsvp no to the next birthday party she gets invited to, explain to her that unless you can trust her to follow your rules and be honest she can't go places without you. Explain to her why you expect honesty and ask her how she would feel if you were lying to her...give her examples...She is trying to assert her independance and make decisions on her own...once her punishment is over give her money once a week to buy icecream...Most of the times that kids lie it's to avoid trouble or they think what they are going to ask would be told no...try to remain calm and explain the punishment is for the lie, not the action...good luck!

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You have plenty of good responses to this question. I've read Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn three times and highly recommend it. Also, I agree with the previous posts that punishment, especially food, is not the best tactic.

It is totally normal for your child to be telling stories. She's made a cognitive leap. This is a teachable moment. One definition of discipline is a system of rules of conduct or method of practice.

Lying presents the parent an opportunity to teach the appropriateness of storytelling and I wanted to add to the discussion a thought about trust.

As a parent of a nine year old I did some deep searching while I was going through the lying phase and realized that I enjoy trusting my child. It allows me to give her more freedom and age appropriate independence. When she lies to me, it takes the joy of trusting each other away and we are in an opposing power struggle. It is a much more joyful experience to me to be powerful together.

L. :)

1 mom found this helpful

I agree that you must consider what she is lying about and why. Perhaps she has really just "found" the strategy and is testing it out. Tall tales were actually part of the curriculum when I taught 7 and 8 year olds and for good reason. No matter what the reason she is lying, maybe she would enjoy and learn from reading tales together (there are several collections - I like Steven Kellogg's illustrations)- and either talk, write, or draw more about them.
The consequence needs to be more related to the lie or the reason. Don't consider a "punishment" as much as something that would give her the structure and support to choose to tell the truth. Is she only lying to you? Maybe she's afraid to tell you things? You could also have her tell you at the end of the day what "she wants to have happened" = tall tale and then tell you "what really happened" = the hard truth.
Also, approach this as a behavior rather than a character trait. She is telling lies - she is not a liar. If she thinks she's "a liar", there's no reason for or maybe hope for her to stop in her mind. This is a difficult age socially (isn't every?!). Give her a hug and be understanding. As mature as these kids try to be - they are still very little and just learning.

You are making a very big mistake...no punishment should everlast a month. Children will not understand this and it is way too long! I think that you would do much better with taking something away for a day or 2.
I love to use a chart with a child this age. They can earn rewards or lose . I often use a point system. Take 3 things to focus on at this age. Lets say: makes bed, does homework without behavior, tells the truth. Each day, have your child put a star on the chart for Monday...when they make their bed, they put a start, do their homework put a star then if at bedtime you talk and ask if they told the truth all day, if yes then they should get a star. If you have found they did lie...immediately tell your child how disappointed you are. Put a sad face on this box. It will be very tangible for your child. Let them look at the chart in the morning and talk about what they willget today. Set the tone for success not failure...if each day is not a new start then why should they tell the truth? What do they have to gain? You can set the rewards together. Keep the carrots special so that you can chage the target behaviors...brushing teeth...loading dishwasher...setting the table....Keep it a simple number of target behaviors....Good luck. I have found this to work even with older teenages...the key is to do it together as a team for success.
Good luck! Thanks,

K. Simons any ? ____@____.com

What sort of lies is your daughter telling? Is she making up stories, because she lacks confidence in the truth? Is she lying because she will get in trouble for telling the truth? Is she experimenting with her words or people's trust in her or testing some boundaries. Teaching her not to lie can be easier if you understand why she is lying.

I worry about her punishment being food based. My dessert was often taken away from me for bad behavior and now I have terrible food issues. Food should be about sustaining ones body, socializing, and savoring. Life shouldn't be about being "good" and eating this or being "bad" and eating that.

A month also seems like a long time for a seven year old. The time frame is so long that she can't look forward to it ending. For her a month, two months, three months they may all feel so far away that she'd rather get in more trouble than wait an incomprehensible amount of time.

How about using a more natural consequence to lying? When people lie they also hurt those whom they love. People don't trust people who lie so now you can not trust her to [insert something she does independently and enjoys]. People who lie have to earn the trust of others. You can give her responsibilities like extra chores to earn back your trust. The natural consequence of sneaking ice cream might have to be food related. If she can not be trusted to purchase the foods she is allowed to purchase then maybe she needs to pack her own lunch for you to inspect each day for a certain amount of time before she earns her lunch account back.

I hope this helps!

I have to say that I believe that lying warrants a bigger punishment than losing desserts. Now that she has not followed your punishment, it would have to be longer and more severe.

First, go to the online lunch account you can restrick any purchase accept the actual lunch (do it today before she goes to lunch and give her a surprise). You can tell the account that no snack or extra item is allowed by blocking that.

Second, I would tell her that her punishment just got longer and harsher, then take away a phone, computer time, tv time etc and give her chores to complete during that time.

My daughter also has serious issues with lying, hiding the truth, not doing as she is told (both with punishments and chores). It is a constant battle, but as you do, I also feel this is a very important ethical trait. If you include chores during that punishment time, this may foster responsibility for her own actions.

Whatever you decide, stick to it and be consistant. They have great ways of creativity to try to get out of something and make us feel bad that it is our fault instead of the actions of their behaviour. A good book 'Smart Discipline' by Larry Koenig (local library) helps put the behaviour on them not us.

Best of Luck!

Show your child the difference between "good" and "bad" lying. Remember, what is great fiction but imaginative lies? Encourage her to make up stories, tape them and write them down, have her illustrate them. Ask her to make up her own punishment for the dessert lie and follow through. I would not be surprised to find that her punishment would be more severe than you expect. I would be concerned about using food in this way, as it could lead to food issues in her life.
S. Striker (author PLEASE TOUCH, Simon & Schuster) elaborates on this idea

One month is a very long time and it is not helpful as children's sense of time is still developing. Your daughter needs to be able to see the end of punishment as a closer goal that is reachable. One seems like forever and there is little incentive to try to stay with the rules. Try a shorter length of time that she can master. Rewarding positive behavior is essential. Try reading some books about lying ex. "Don't Tell a Whopper on Fridays" by Adolph Moser. Good luck.

We have lying issues too, with 3 girls 7, 13 nad 14. I wont get in to it but to say...stick to your punishment. As far as school goes, you can send a letter stating that she is no longer allowed to charge any treats or do as we did. Stop the charging all together. We now pack lunch Everyday Sometimes it's hard, but we do it.. we had to !! You will see, it will work. Good luck

First you could contact the school and let them know that lunch money is for lunch only not snacks. Thats how our school works. I have a 7 year old daughter and I have tired charts and had success. Also sometimes its seems that taking away food isnt the answwer you need to take away something bigger. Hope this helps.


I have a few questions. Is this behavior of lying new? Have you sat down together and talked about why lying is not a good idea? About how it hurts others and oneself. About if you lie, then others don't know when you are being truthful and you loose the trust of those around you. About if you lie, then in your own mind you become more tense and paranoid because you have to remember you lies. There are deep reasons about why to be truthful that are for the well being of oneself and others.

It is important that your child sees an example of honesty around her. Are those in her environment (home and other) also truthful? This has no judgement, just a place to begin reflection on why she is lying. Does she get benefit from her lying?

What does desert have to do with lying? It seems to me a more logical consequence would be to speak to those she has lied to or about and be honest with them. It also seems unrealistic to expect her to self impose her punishment. I am not saying you are wrong to impose a consequence, but does this consequence have a relation to the problem. Then when we impose harsh or long consequences (or any consequence) we have to stick to them or they loose any effectiveness. (Meaning what we say.)

I don't have answers, but perhaps you can see and use this as a time of opening with your child. Talking about deep values. Sometimes I ask my children what they think the appropriate consequence is. They are very thoughtful (meaning thinking it through) and they understand why I feel their actions were inappropriate. They also are quite aware about when we as parents are being hypocritical. In my household, as parents, we have the authority. Is it not really a democracy. But we also have the bottom line of respect and listening (to all, not just the adults). It is not always easy, but my children are quite respectful and thoughtful.

Good luck.

Why is she lying? is the first question*
The lying is getting too much attention. I would suggest rewarding her when she tells the truth. I would have a heart to heart with her and reassure her of how much she is loved. It seems that she is seeking some attention of some sort. Once you have this heart to heart of positive things-wipe the slate clean. Then let her know what the rules are. Once this foundation is laid down then she knows and is clear that if she does "this" then "this" will happen. If she lies after this conversation you must stick with the rules. Rules such as no lying. Dont try to catch her in a lie-Just ask her. Be nuetral and fair. Once you know for a fact that she lied. Sit her down and say to her, I asked you about such and such and you said such and such but it is such and such. then let her know since you didnt tell the truth this is what is going to happen. That's it- no arguments.

Good Luck- I hope this is helpful.

Congrats to you for checking up on her. I personally would take something away that is more valuable to her. Every day you see she had ice cream take a day away from the computer or if she get TV time take that away. A favorite toy, or make her do a chore instead.

Keep up the good work mom! Your on the right track, she'll learn to stop lying eventually!

Someone told me an interesting story which may help you. A mother was called to school because her child had lied. The Mother did not make fuss but on the drive home told the child that they would stop at McDonald's and have a burger, ice cream, fries and he could play at the play ground. As they drove by McDonald's the mother continued and did not stop. The child reminded the Mother that she had said that they would stop and have a treat. The Mother calmly told the child that she had lied. The lies stopped.

Lying is a control issue. She is not accepting her place in life so she is manipulating her way to make things her own way. Thereby having some control.
I don't think anybody can give you a sure fire strategy because nobody know the social relationship you have with your daughter.... but you need to find your own way to make her more tolerant of things she can not control.
I've always believed that in punishment, the consequence must fit the action. Taking away dessert should be something done for wasting nutritious food....
Lying? I would alter the trust and responsibility you are giving the child. Because, as in real life, there are consequences for yur actions, and if your boss does not trust you, it hampers your work invironment. As they grow, we give them more freedoms and also responsibilities to suit their maturity. I would take much of that away because she is not earning your trust. I do not know what her lifestyle is....so only you can decide. But double check everyhing she does and make it obvious there is a lack of trust. She needs to earn it back. As far as the buying icecream thing? I'm sure if you talked to the guidance counselor or teacher about creative discipline, they would be helpful in taking away her right to purchase lunch and food on her own for a whole month. If the school is aware of your intervention they could help, the children are monitored close at that age. Or, drain her account and only give her the bare minimum for purchases, or pack her lunch..plain sandwich and an apple. She won't starve....
Most importantly, she will have less freedom than her peers and understand it is a consequence to her disobeying her punishment.

You can't take away anything that you can't control. Try the TV, or video games.

You should be able to lock your account so she can only purchase lunch and not any extras. Also try writing a Rules Board with that being listed as a rule, my kids are really responding to a Rules Board very well, much better than I imagined they would. It seems to help them remember what is acceptable and what is not. Try and point out to her how important it is that you be able to trust her and how other kids make fun of kids who lie and don't want to play with them so much. Good luck.

FIrst children lie for many reasons, I would ask my child and find out why she lied. I think that at first she will say no, however you may find that the lie is to cover something that you initially disapproved of. I told my children that no matter what they could tell me. I also let them decide on the punishment with me. I think that unless the lie was so grand that no dessert for a month is harsh especially at school for a seven year old who needs to be accepted by her friends and belong to the group. The most punishment my kids received was a week. A month is forever for a child of seven whose sense of time is different from ours. Most importantly you want to keep the lines of communication open. I remember telling one of my children who is now an adult that if he was out and was uncomfortable for any reason to call me. I would with hold judgement even if he broke a house rule, fair enough, this happened and it turned out that four of his friends perished that night and he was home with a two day grounding. I find that groundings work so well. I WOULD LET THE ICE CREAM INCIDENT GO.

My little one is only 8 weeks old, so I don't have any first hand experience dealing with my child lying (at least not yet!), but I wanted to comment on linking food to punishment/reward. I personally don't think that food should ever be associated with a punishment or reward - this creates an unhealthy relationship with food. Perhaps you could revoke tv or video game privileges instead - you would have much more control over this while she is at home, and you wouldn't have to worry about your daughter "sneaking" food, which creates secrecy around eating. Girls are already at a disadvantage when it comes to eating disorders - if we can avoid making food and eating an issue when they are young, they are already stronger for it. Best of luck to you - I am sure that it is incredibly frustrating, but I am sure that you will find a happy medium.

ask the school to put a block on her ability to buy anything but the lunch! that's what we did...just keep stepping up the loss of priveleges every time she lies - and don't give up! we are in the same boat with our 8 yr old daughter.

A month seems like a long time to me, and I am a lot older than 7.

When our kids went through the lying phase, it seemed like sometimes they were saying it to try to make it come true, or if they siad it enough, it would be true (I have blue eyes, from the brown eyed girl, and we are going {insert place here} from the boy. Of course, noone has ever *done* anything in my house - or someone else did it. I think that's pretty normal, and I think all kids try it for a while.

I'm not sure what to do about it - we seem to have managed to reduce the incidents of absolute untruth and increased the incidents of owning up and telling the truth by having the children discuss what it feels like when someone lies to you. We discussed how it might feel if I said I would do something, then looked at them and said "HAH! _ PSYCH!!!", or denied ever telling them we'd do it. We have also taken away priveledges and have made them pay us for the lies from the money they have from chores, or added even less desirable chores to their lists.

Childhood is about figuring out not just what you *can* get away with, but what you *should*. I know we'd all like to raise "perfect" kids, but I have yet to meet anyone who is doing it, and not a liar. It gets easier as they are more able to reason and distinguish reality from fantasy. I don't think it ever gets *easy*, but I have to hope it gets "easier"....


I went through the same thing with my son. It takes a lot of time, patience and prayer. You have to catch her doing something good and reward her for that. Long term punishments don't work. They lose the point immediately. It has to be for the same day. For example, take away electronics for the day or something she really treasures. Take her on an ice cream trip for doing something honest and let her know how dissappointed you are when she's not and allow her to suffer the consequences. If she buys dessert, make her go to the lunch ladies and explain she wasn't allowed to do it. She needs to be accountable for whatever she does, but be gentle. I've tried it all and that was the best advice I got from a therapist. It worked. Good luck.

You have to ask yourself.....why is she lying? Ask her straight out and explain to her that lying is not a good thing and why its not a good thing. As for punishment, tell her that each time she lies, you will take away something she likes and if she tells the truth, you will reward her with something special each time. It could be nail polish, a chap stick, stickers or anything of the like. Craft stores have great stuff in the dollar value section. The dessert thing will not work, I have found they could care less about it and it doesn't mean anything because eventually they find away around it, as your daughter has proved to you by purchasing dessert when she is not in your presence. On the contrary, she is testing and pushing the boundaries proving she can do what she likes when you are not around. Just remember it is all about communication and explaining what she is doing wrong, why it's wrong and why she shouldn't do it. Perhaps this is her way of showing she needs something. Spend some girl time with her, sit and talk, paint each others nails, read a good book together, have her read one paragraph and you the next. Things like that, that will bond you and help her understand what it takes to be a little lady. I found it worked wonders with my daughter and myself. Better to sit and do each others nails and talk then to carry on and rip your hair out over something that just needs to be thouroughly explained to her. Good luck to you T..

Food cannot be withheld when the child is not in your presence. Using food as either reward or punishment is a poor choice of action. Talk with her. Tell her the story of the boy who cried "wolf." tell her how important being truthful is, giving examples of your own truthfulness.

Hi T.,
I have a 6 year old daughter, who, just started lying with just about everything these days. I have talked to her about it, and did some research, and get this are your ready? It is perfectly natural for kids that age to lie. BUT, we should not excuse that bad trait. If and when children lie, constantly, they are trying to protect themselves from possibly getting into trouble, or id it is a lie about for example, not brushing your teeth, well that is about control. So, the two factors why the lying continues and possibly escalates is, they are afraid of what we will do, say, react and they do not trust us to obctively listen to their fears, and, or, they are looking for a sense of control because their lives are so controlled by us that they feel powerless and lying is a way for them to feel like they are in charge of something in their lives.
I for one, stopped punishing for lying. I try to talk about why, and let my child know I am here for her, no matter what. It's best to do that now, because when tey are teens, you want them to be able to come to you for anything, and they will have that trust that it's ok to come to you without fear of getting in trouble or punished. And, another suggesstion, that i now is hard, is to possible give your child moe choices in his/her daily activities, less domineering from us, that might lessen the need for little white lies. I know it sounds inconventional, but, after much reasearch, it just makes more sense than punishing, and then more punishing, that actually will make the lying worse. Read Alfie Kohns book, unconditional parenting for more info on this subject. we need to talk to our children, make then feel safe for them to tell us anything. Lying is just a symptom to a much bigger issue. have a blessed day.

Hi T.,
I read a very interesting article in NY Magazine about this very issue. Take a look


Good Luck

I do not believe that food should ever be used as a punishment, dessert or otherwise. It has been said that it can lead to eating disorders when the child gets older. When my daughter was in Kindergarten, a teacher once did not let my daughter eat cupcakes with the rest of the class as a punishment. My daughter did develop an eating disorder when she got older. I cannot say for sure if it is related to the cupcake incident, but I will forever wonder.

Every child goes through a lying phase. When your daughter tells the truth, praise her and never accuse her of lying unless you know for sure it is a lie. When she does lie, try to make the punishment fit the crime. Punishments should also be short term, especially at age 7.

Also, learn to listen to your child as well as talking to them. My children, son 10 and daughter 17, tell me everything (well, almost everything), because I listen to them and I don't judge. When they do something wrong, I let them know what they did wrong, why it was wrong, and what they should do the next time. If the crime is severe enough, I will try to make the punishment fit the crime or I will take away computer/video game/tv time.

Try to think about why your child is lying. Is she lying to get out of trouble and, if so, is it because your punishments are too harsh or too long term? My children do not like to be punished, but they are not afraid of punishment because I try to make the punishments fair and reasonable, so they are not afraid to tell me the truth.

If your daughter continues to lie and does not outgrow this phase, please consider counseling. My daughter had a serious problem with lying and I eventually had to put her into counseling (she was about 12 years old).

My mom told me at a very early age and continued telling me although my teen years never to lie, that no matter how bad the truth was I should be honest and tell the truth and I'd not get punished.... That I will only get severely punished if I got caught in the lie. So I told the truth and she would talk of choices I could have made instead of what I did that got me into trouble in the first place. These talks felt endless but I learned from them. She would then send me off to my room to think about it all. I felt her anger, annoyance, concern, worry but also caring and love though out it all and it taught me to think about my choices first before I took action. That doesn't mean I always made the right choices but that too is a learning process. Also she never fixed the problem or truble I got myself into which taught me that I had to take responsibility for my own actions and choices..

I think punishing a young child for a month gets lost.

Confront your child about the ice cream and tell her how disappointed and hurt you are with her choice in spending your money on it after she was told she couldn't have desserts. Then tell her "IF YOU DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS, HOW CAN I EVER TRUST YOU"? Talk to her about right and wrong choices and trust.... and ask her to think about it all and let it go at this point.
At some point soon after, she will ask to do something or ask for something...ask her then, how you can trust her in making the right choices about it....and if it doesn't turn out to be right, how you can count on her to be honest and tell the truth...remind her about her choice about buying the ice cream. Then give her some rope and see how she does..

The point being work with it...give her the chance to turn this problem around for herself and make it right....she'll learn.

I would not think that no dessert is adequate punishment for lying. And now that she has defied the punishment itself, the consequences must be greater.

I have a 7 year old as well and we have told him from day one that whatever his consequences would be for something, they would be that much greater if he lied about what he did. To our knowledge he has never lied to us and even goes as far as to tell us in the past when he has done something wrong...things we would not have known about otherwise.

You need to think of a punishment for whatever the act was. Say you would have given her a week with no playdates. I would tell her that the initial offense would have resulted in one week but because she lied, she now gets 2 weeks. Now because she defied the very punishment itself, honestly, I would double the punishment again.

Now is the time to teach them that lying is wrong because they are only getting that much closer to their preteen and teen years. Not to mention, it shows lack of respect when she lies to you and even that much more when she did what she did about the dessert at school. She knows you can access the account and she STILL did it?? That shows absolutely no respect in my opinion...at least maybe respect for you to follow through on what you say you will do.

In this case, I would say no dessert at home or school for the next 4 weeks (start the time over) and then no play dates, video games, or something else that she loves for another 2 weeks because the initial punishment doesn't fit the crime. Let her know that if she defies you again about the dessert thing, you will double BOTH the punishments and THEN DO IT.

I wish you the best.

My only advice to you is that the punishment needs to match the crime...hence, if your daughter is telling you she did her homework and she didn't, then the punishment could be that she has to do her homework in the kitchen while you are making dinner so you can watch her and check to see that she did it. You also have to make sure that you can carry out the punishment. There is no way you can monitor whether or not she has dessert at school and your daughter may even get a kick out of getting away with this. Good luck - I hope everything works out!

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