5 Year Old Consistently Lying

Updated on April 01, 2015
J.S. asks from Los Angeles, CA
14 answers

My son will be 6 this June and he's been telling a lot of little lies lately. An example would be: I ask if he ate anything after school and he'll say no so I give him a snack. Later, I find out that he DID indeed eat quite a lot of things after school! I've spoken with him about this and he says he's "joking" and not lying and I tried to explain to him that just because he labels it something other than lying doesn't change what it is! All of his little lies are of this same nature - nothing big - but I'm wondering if and how I should discipline this behavior. Any advice on how to handle? Thanks!

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So What Happened?

Thanks everyone. I'm still a little confused as to how to handle but I guess I'll just try some of the suggestions below and take it from there. I know he doesn't mean harm by it - I just want to make sure he grows up knowing that lying is not OK... Anyway, thanks for the suggestions!

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answers from Norfolk on

Change the question is a good idea.
Instead of
'did you eat anything?'
'are you hungry?'
And then feed him if he is.

13 moms found this helpful

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answers from Appleton on

Change the question. Instead of asking him IF he ate anything ask him WHAT he ate at school.
He may also be growing through a growth spurt. My kids were always hungry when they went through a growth spurt.

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

First kids this age are still learning the difference between fantasy and reality. I suggest that instead of thinking of this as a discipline issue, see it as an opportunity to teach him the difference between a lie and the truth. Describe the difference giving examples. I suggest that you do this when he's not lying. Just a part of general conversation. For example ask him if saying my mom isn't home; is that a lie or the truth?

I suggest that when he says he didn't have a snack after school could be he really doesn't remember. Or because he's hungry he says no because he wants a snack. Is he in daycare after school. If so they usually have a snack immediately after school. My grandkids were always hungry when I picked them up a couple of hours later. If he comes home after school. I'm confused.If he has an afternoon snack it is midway between lunch and the end of school. If he has lunch at 11 then his snack would be around 1:30. Again he'd be hungry when he gets home.

Sounds like you're not giving him a snack if he has one at school. Why does it matter if he has one or not? What matters is if he's hungry or not. And he can be just a little bit hungry or just want a snack. If he's not overweight he needs to be allowed to eat at reasonable times and not just when hungry if he's not gaining too much weight. I suggest you don't want to make food an issue. Doing so can cause eating disorders.

My daughter was upset with my grandaughter each and every time my daughter perceived she was lying. She would verbally punish her. I picked up my grandaughter from after school care. Walking across the playground she told me her aunt lived across the street and wanted to visit her. My response was "it sure would be fun to see her. I wonder if you just wished she lived across the street? She nodded and turned to get in the car. Her mother said that was a lie.

My granddaughter is now 14 and lies because she learned her mom would get angry if she told the truth and often her mom didn't catch on when it was a lie. Of course her lying is more complicated than that.

I write it to illustrate how important it is to teach rather than punish. this is a developmental stage. Kids still have difficulty recognizing the difference between what they wish happened and what actually happened. In cases when truth is important, gently remind him of the truth if you know it.

I also suggest, at this age especially, do not ask questions that require a yes or no answer. Ask what happened in a conversation. Don't accuse him of lying unless you know what happened. Have a conversation that will remind him the truth is important. I suggest that asking about a snack when the answer is either yes or no the question is not important.

Don't test him to see if he'll lie. If you know the answer give him the answer. Don't ask a question. Doing this helps him learn how to tell the truth. Remember that you and him have better communication if lies are not punished. My response to adults and children is "I know that's not the truth." Most of the time I walk away and come back to it later if it's important for the person to acknowledge the truth. Many so called lies are not important. You telling the truth teaches by itself.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I love B and Rev Ruby's responses. Little kids "lie" to stay out of trouble. Don't give him the chance to lie, refrain from asking an accusatory question, and make sure he always has plenty to eat. Not too much junk obviously, but a child should never feel the need to "sneak" food in my opinion.
But maybe that's my opinion because I experienced true hunger as a child :-(

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

If you change the question, as suggested below, and if "snack" means healthy options instead of junk, then you won't really care what he eats. So if "snack" means a small plate with 3 things on it (melon cubes or a few strawberries, a couple of almonds or some other source of protein, and some green pepper strips or carrots, for example), then 2 sets of snacks isn't a problem. Who's giving him the after school snacks? Can you check on that, or at least have some say in what is offered? If you have him bring home whatever he doesn't eat, just so it "doesn't get wasted" and not so you can check up on him, it will take all the pressure off. He's telling you these stories because he gets a payoff - either he enjoys your reaction, or he likes outsmarting you, or he wants more treats. If there's no incentive for him to lie, it takes the fun out of it for him.

Definitely don't ask yes or no questions about anything at this age - half the time they don't remember what they id in school, and the other half they just don't get what level of info you want or feel that you need it.

Once you set ground rules that let him get what he needs (e.g. snacks that are healthy), then you can zero in on additional lies and figure out what you need to clamp down on and what you just ignore and not give him any satisfaction over. There can't be any payoff for lying but you have to figure out why he's doing it before you discipline it. And choose your battles.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

lying is a huge deal in this family. one of the worst things you can do. so i get the worry, and the need to handle it decisively.
the problem is that young fellows like this are still figuring it out. there are 'bad' lies (i kicked the neighbor's dog), there are wistful lies ('i took my friend's toy because he didn't want it any more'), there are fear-based lies (i don't know how it got broke!') and there's fantasy, 'i turn into a dragon when the moon comes out.'
the first and easiest thing to do is to avoid putting him in a position where a lie will be easier than the truth. the snack problem is a very easy one- just ask when gets home 'are you hungry?' and if he is, give him a healthy snack.
when you need to ask him a truth-or-lie type question, don't toss it off casually. get down on his level, look him in the eye and ask the question quietly and seriously. if he lies under these circumstances, there's likely something going on. so you need to make clear the distinction between 'you will get in trouble for doing X' and 'you will get in serious trouble for lying'. that means that when your child misbehaves and 'fesses up, you don't let them off the hook but you DO acknowledge their honesty and express some pride in them for it.
it would be so much easier if we just explained it once and that was it, but this is a learning curve. you need to keep working on cultivating an atmosphere where honesty is prized, and deal with setbacks firmly and immediately, but not so harshly that fear overcomes the impulse to be honest (and most little people DO have a strong impulse to be honest.)
foster the honesty and discourage the lies, and do both with patience and humor. it will pay off in the long run.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

This is normal behavior so don't get too worried. I think you are doing the right thing now by teaching him what is & what is not a lie/fib & that we don't do that.

Don't be too hard on him, I honestly think it's not their fault...seems that lying is the first natural reaction kids have & it's our job to teach them to fight that & always tell the truth.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Barbara on

His lie is not creative. He lied and the way you explained it seemed by lying he would get food and had he told the truth he would not.

I know kids this age who lie about seeing a mermaid, no wait, the mermaid was in my bath, no,no I turned into a mermaid.

If a child said they did their chore and received the reward, yet actually lied i would give a consequence. Since your son's lie involved eating, you may need to find out if he is hungry and having a growth spurt or wanting the treat/snack and spoiling his dinner.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

My son went through this phase. I called him on each lie. It is not a joke it is a lie!! He got consequences for lying. He did not get a consequence if he told the truth.

At the time he was earning tv/screen time and a lie would cost him time. That seemed to help. The phase did last longer than I thought. Mostly he thought he would get in trouble so he lied...I showed him he only got in trouble for lying.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I don't think it's lying. If he was 13 & doing this I'd label it that.
He's just answering you in a different way. For example, my thought on
why he said he didn't have anything after school is that he was afraid if
he'd said yes then you wouldn't give him another snack. School makes
little kids ravenous.
If he drew on your walls w/crayons then said he didn't do it & he was the
only child home then I'd consider it lying & discipline it w/having him
clean it w/your help as he shouldn't really be tackling cleaners by himself
He doesn't consider it lying because of the content.
Also, please take into consideration his age. The real age of cognitive
reasoning is 7 & a little above.
Cognitively speaking in terms of aging & growth you can't expect this much at this age. If you asked me & I gave you some hokey answer then
yes that is lying. Or your husband, let's say. The examples you've cited
are not really lying.
Try to give him a break as he is only 5 & as I've said....it's not really considered lying in those examples.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

Yes a little discipline should be applied, however, nothing too severe. I think it is a phase.

Both my daughter's went through it. In time you will learn to call him on it and he will learn it is not a good idea to lie.

My daughter told me it was her teacher's fault that she didn't bring home her study book because he rushes them out of the classroom after school. I asked, "WHAT? You mean this is all Mr. L's fault. I'm calling him because there is no way he is going to hold my daughter back." She said, "Never mind, I forgot the book".

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Bee, Marda is giving you some of the best advice I've seen on this subject. Honestly.

It's amazing to me to watch adults take so personally "untruths" their little kids tell. So much so that they will get their backs up, fight with their kids and treat them like they are small pariahs.

What I'll add to Marda's remarks is that kids need to have a concept introduced multiple times before they "get it". Plus, their brains have to develop into the understanding. Your son is still developing.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

I'd love to know too. My DD is the same age and does the same thing. Drives me crazy.

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answers from Los Angeles on

My daughter is 16 and still does that,says the same thing... I was just joking. She doesn't lie about big stuff, just little things. I would suggest you nip it in the bud now, so it's doesn't become a permanent thing. I think she gets it from my husband, he has a habit of doing that too. Everyone has to be on the same page. Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful
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