Help with Lying

Updated on October 01, 2010
J.G. asks from Orlando, FL
18 answers

I have a 3 and 1/2 year old who can't seem to understand how to tell the truth, and why she must. I had never known her to make up a falsehood before this week. She said a boy at daycare hit her. He has been rough before, so there was no reason not to believe her. I spoke with the director of her daycare, and she spoke with the boy's mom. That afternoon, I spoke directly with her teacher, and got a different story (my daughter said she had cried to the teacher and told her the boy hit her, and that the teacher had been stern with the boy and had separated him from the rest of the class, but the teacher said she had not cried at all to her, and had only said the boy was bothering her, and she did have the boy play away from her but not the rest of the class). When I asked my daughter again what had happened, she went back and forth between him hitting her and him bothering her (making silly faces, etc.). Then she told my husband that the boy hit her again yesterday (this was maybe an hour after my talk with her), that she told me and had hit him back. None of this occurred. I had another long talk with her, explaining truths and falsehoods (I used the example that it was raining - that was the truth, and that if I said it was sunny, that was false) and how important it was to be honest and only tell what really happened. I said that this boy had gotten in trouble by his parents because of what she had said, and that was not fair. I told her she must apologize to him and his parents. I am concerned that she still does not get it. I know she is young, but this is an important lesson, as I don't want others to be affected by untruths. Any suggestions?

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So What Happened?

Great responses! I don't think I took her developmental age into account as much as I should have. I have tried to reassure her that she will not get in trouble if she tells me the truth, and I am trying to reiterate what telling the truth IS. I told her it is wonderful to use her imagination and make up stories, as long as she tells us that it is a story, and not the truth. She did apologize to the little boy, and they hugged it out. It was a really great moment, actually, and they were both smiling when we left for the day. All in all, I think I need to remember that this will be a long process. Lies will be told (I know I am not raising a saint!), but as she gets older, the consequences will have to be greater and the discussions longer. Thanks so much for taking the time to help me out with this one, ladies! You all rock as mommies!

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answers from Miami on

All 3.5 yr olds go through this developmental stage of lying. It's normal. Just be firm and tell her you only want the truth. It happens many times before they concretely become aware of lie/truth.



answers from Miami on

You can use the story of the boy who cried 'wolf' to help her see that people won't believe what you say if you've lied about things, so you need to show honesty to have people trust you and listen to you because a time will come when you really need people to believe what you are telling them.

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answers from Boston on

She's too young to truly understand the difference between truth and lying. No amount of explaining that others are hurt by lying will make her "get it." Developmentally she's just not there. My five year old still has a hard time differentiating between things that have actually happened and things that she wished happened. She is starting to be aware of consciously lying (i.e. "I didn't hit my brother" when she knows she actually did) but still doesn't really understand that fabricating a story is also a lie.

The only thing that you can really do in this situation is to keep promising her that you'll always tell the truth (I told you that I'd take you for ice cream. I always tell you the truth. After we go to the grocery store I will take you for ice cream) and working with her on what is "real" and what is pretend. The only person that you can control here is you. Unfortunately you have entered the period, which will last the rest of the time she lives at home, when you cannot simply believe everything she tells you. Take everything with a grain of salt, and when something seems really amiss, question further.

Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Colorado Springs on

Three is an age at which imagination and reality, fantasy and fact, are NOT clearly delineated, and neither are truth-telling and lying. Lying is wrong, but this is not the same situation as it would be if she were several years older, knew truth from falsehood, and deliberately chose falsehood.

So this is a good place to begin teaching. I don't think long talks about concepts do much good at this age. Short lessons whenever the opportunity appears may work better. It'll be a while before she "gets it," but she can start. This takes day-by-day work. Catch the moments as they fly.

You may want to talk to the teacher about this, also. Let her in on the fun of helping your daughter understand. The teacher must be your colleague in this, since she has your daughter much of the day.

Do you know the old Sam Levenson joke about the schoolteacher who sent all the parents notes that read, "If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I promise not to believe everything your child says happens at home"? Well, at the moment, what your daughter tells you needs to be "reviewed" in a friendly way. Be curious, not angry. "What happened? Is this boy usually a nice boy? Did he hit you, or did he tease you? Did he say words, or did he make faces? Help me see what happened. Let's figure out what's true."

Come to think of it, your daughter could actually have seen a child hit another child at day care and, without thinking about it, she could have incorporated what she had seen into her thinking about what actually happened between her and this boy. It can happen!

Don't forget that this is the age when the green-faced Wicked Witch of the West is really scary, Mickey Mouse is a lovable, living entity, Santa Claus comes down that little chimney, and Grandpa can actually pull a quarter out of his ear. (Wait a minute... the Wicked Witch of the West still scares ME.)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I think kids make up stuff all the time - sometimes it's cute, but not when it really affects others. I know you want her to apologize to the child and his parents but that might be a little much. She doesn't get it - at her age, she really doesn't have empathy for another person. You can put her through the exercise of apologizing to the boy (leave the parents out of it) but she's just going to be doing it because you said so, not because she's truly sorry. It's not a character flaw at this age, it's just not a developmental stage she has reached. You can make her DO it, but you can't make her FEEL it, you know? She may also THINK the boy played away from everyone, not just her, because she is self-centered (again, normal, especially when upset) and truly didn't notice the other kids, just the offending child.

I think you have to tell her that you need to talk to the teacher every day and find out what really happened, because your child makes things up. You can probe and say (without judgment in your voice), "Why did you make up a story about hitting Johnny?" You can add that "Mrs. Smith told me that Johnny played at with the puzzles with 2 other children."

I'm not sure that she can make the connection between "It's sunny/it's raining" and what she did in class. I think you're going to have to catch her in lies or different versions of events (First you said A, now you say B - which is it?), confront her with what the teacher said (one lie at a time), and go from there.

I DO think it is perfectly appropriate to not believe her and tell her why, and to take away a privilege telling her that it's only for kids who tell the truth. Work with the teacher on a daily basis for a week or so, so that you are current on what really happened and you aren't trying to reconstruct things after a few days.

It's a no-fun phase to go through, I know.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

You have handled the situation to the best ability. My opinion on this subject is that your child is extremelly intelligent for his age with a wonderful imagination.



answers from Tampa on

I haven't read your other answers, but my 3yr old son does the same thing. He'll tell me (or anyone really) something that happened that day or that he "did" or "didn't" do, but when you ask whoever he was with you realize he's telling a story - so to speak. He's said he did something when I know very well he didn't cause I was with him. I think it's just the age and they're learning how to use their imaginations. Keep working with her and she will get it (I hope since I have the same problem - LOL). Good luck!



answers from Orlando on

Mine lil one is not at that age yet, but the way my mom handles my nephew when he lies is she asks him the question she already has the answer to - he he lies she just keeps asking down on his level and makes it clear that he won't get in trouble (his worry) for lying to her if he tells her the truth. He always comes clean. He's at the same age as yours - I think your daughter may just be afraid of getting into trouble herself for exaggerating a story so she's beating around the bush with you. Maybe if you sit her down and explain to her that she will not be in trouble for telling you the truth of what happened that day and insist on an honest answer without throwing to much explanation and "this is why we don't" into it, she'll fess up :o)



answers from Indianapolis on

Just keep talking to her.........and you might "show" her the things that happen when you lie........also, ask her how she would feel if someone said something bad about her that was a lie and she got into trouble.......

She's pretty young to understand, but keep working with her, she'll get it figured out....

Good Luck and hang in there.



answers from Kansas City on

we've been working a lot with our daughter about lying lately. She's also 3 1/2. We watched Pinochio, which has a lot about lying (also smoking and other stuff I didnt remember! Thanks, Disney!) and it seems to have sunken in a little more since then. She also didnt like Lotso Huggin' Bear from Toy Story 3, she calls him the lying bear.

Every time I catch her in a lie, I call her on it. Whether it's little or big. She's slowly getting that she needs to tell the truth and she gets in more trouble with a lie. For example, the other day I caught her in my room and she was telling me "nothing happened....I put it back." So, I said "ok, either nothing happened, or you put it back. Tell me the truth and you wont be in trouble" which is when I learned she was playing with my makeup. She didnt get in trouble, but she does when she lies, and she's starting to make the connection.



answers from Minneapolis on

Kids can tell you what they think you want to hear, or tell you what they wish had happened. I agree to call them on it. Say something like "that was a lie. You need to say what happened." Then act on the truth of what happened. This way, they don't "get away with it".

There's a great book called NutureShock that is based on studies and studies of kids. In it is an entire chapter on lying. The above paragraph is what the chapter is about in a nutshell. You can read it to get more of the why and details if you want. Many libraries have it and my local library has it on audio. It's a great book. (by Po Bronson)



answers from Tampa on

My son will be 6 next week and we have gone through some things with bullies. Fortunately, my daughter has been in the classes with him and she is not one to lie. Our first instance was last year when she told me that someone had repeatedly hit my son at school over the course of 3 days. None of the teachers witnessed it. My son was mad that she told me and at first denied it then admitted it. We spoke to the teacher, etc and the boy was punished. Apparently there was a history of this from this child. Things got better, then a few days later the boy hit him again. My son was told to tell the teacher and this time he did. The boy was again punished. My son was very embarrassed about the whole thing. However, a short while after that he came home and said the boy hit him. My daughter said the boy did not. We discussed it further and it turns out they were playing a game, so "hit" was not the correct word. There were a couple of other times when this kind of thing happened and we had discussions about what actually happened. Sometimes it was true and sometimes there were other explanations. We have had to talk through cause and effect (ie: if you call someone a name and make them mad, they may hit you; if you get someone in trouble for something like "hitting" you in a game of tag, they may call you a baby). We have learned to ask a lot more questions including "what did you do, what did you say, what were you doing when that happened, etc". to try to get the real truth. We have cautioned him on lying and asked how he would feel if someone did that to him. We have stressed saying sorry when you make a mistake and how to treat others how you would want to be treated. Be reassured that lots of kids go through phases of lying and sometimes they don't mean to lie, they just leave parts out. Other times, they really are telling the truth. I would also talk to the school and let them know that she has stated he hit her twice. maybe the teacher's could be on the lookout. I might also ask if I could observe the class (discretely if possible) to see how the boy and your daughter behave toward each other. That was something my son's preschool allowed. I watched out of the window of one of the other classrooms when they were outside playing so I got a feel for what was going on. Good luck!



answers from Sarasota on

Three and a half is much too young to know the difference! The PP is totally right. You can start teaching it, but they won't get it for years yet. What they imagine, what they saw other kids do, what they wish happened--it's all as real for them as our "reality."

Keep the talks short so that she can pay attention, but realize that getting older and repitition (saying the same simple things whenever it comes up) will eventually teach the concept.



answers from Tampa on

When I've caught my son in a lie over something unimportant, not serious like this, I tell him that if he lies then he is teaching everyone not to ever believe him. The boy who cried wolf is an old story but a good one. The idea that people won't ever believe him really seems to make him stop and think. Apologizing to the boy and his parents should be a memorable lesson but I would also take away a favorite book or toy for a time so she understands that this is huge. You've got to squash this quickly or you are going to have heck on your hands for many years.



answers from Burlington on

When I was about 3 years old, I hid our car keys from my black and white kitten. My mother couldn't find the keys. She asked everyone if we'd seen the keys. I said I knew where they were and went to the toy box to get them. I said I was hiding them from my kitty.

We did not own any kittens or cats.

Good luck,
: ) MD



answers from Tampa on

I honestly don't think she is intentionally doing this to harm anyone or to get you upset. At this age, lying is different. Their reality is different. She has been affected by what this boy did in the past to her and any "bothering" on his part makes those feelings and memories resurface. Rather than teaching her about not lying (which in essance is teaching her how to), teach her the beauty of forgiveness, patience and letting go. Loving someone no matter what mistake they did could be a great lesson in itself. Sometimes bothering and hitting is the same. She may be reliving what happened before in her mind. In the future, discuss any issues with her teacher before meeting with the director or parents. In our preschool, (I work with 3yr olds) we take pictures of the children playing/working together as evidence of how they get along. At times children will say someone hit them and they are talking about an incident that happened last year in the former class!! The powerful memories are hard to let go of. Good luck! Teach her forgiveness and tolerance.



answers from Tampa on

Did you ever stop to think maybe the boy did hit her and no one seen it and she then found out that he got in trouble for her telling so she changed the story because she didn't like him getting into trouble? This happens a lot with little ones. My cousin is a Pre-School teacher and she says she sees it all the time. A child is hit or kicked and then tells the teacher. Of course her job is to punish the child for being abusive. She then puts him in a corner or sends him out of the room. The child that was hit does not like this and either out of fear or compassion for the child will change their story and say the child did nothing. She also said a teacher can not watch all the children at the same time so she/he has to take a childs word for what they tell them. So it is very possible that your daughter was hit and did not like the results of her telling. And then again she may just not be telling the truth. My cousin also said that children that small get confused and they honestly do not know how to lie at that age intentionally. I say you did the right thing talking to her but give her some slack. There may be some truth to her story.



answers from Tampa on

hi J., how are you today? i read your post on lieing, and all i can say is that my son is the same age as your daughter. he says things that arent true as well, but he does it because he is learning and practicing his words, and sentences. he doesnt do it to "be bad".i am unsure if my son even knows what a "lie" is, but; if your daughter has the full understanding of what that is, then of course you should maybe impliment some form of punishment. (at least thats what i would do.) good luck!

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