How Do You Punish a Liar?

Updated on May 25, 2011
H.D. asks from Allen, TX
19 answers

Hi everyone,

You know, once you get baby #1 under your belt, you feel like a pro right? WRONG!! I am starting to lose it w/my 5yo daughter. She has by far been my worst liar yet to the point of being so blatant about it I'm at my wits end! She lies about everything, washing her hands, going potty before bed, brushing her hair, eating her dinner (this one's the best, she'll HIDE her meal around the table-under glasses, under the rim of the plate, on the floor etc...) and even cleaning her room. I've tried all sorts of punishments, I don't know why nothing has really worked but clearly I'm doing something wrong. I don't know why she lies so much, she's a very happy child. She does great at school, has friends, loves to play with her siblings etc...I'm at a loss. Any advice on how to manage/punish a liar I'll take!


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answers from San Francisco on

This is what I did with one of my kids, when we had this problem. We "lied" to her. We would say, for instance, "We are all going to Baskin Robbins after dinner for ice cream" After dinner we would go about business as usual with no mention of Baskin Robbins. When she wondered "You said we were going out for ice cream" we would calmly say, "Oh, we aren't really going, we lied"
We didn't "lie" about anything significant, just the sort of thing that would let her see how it feels when someone lies to you and how it felt to her to not be able to trust what we said. It didn't take long for her to get the message of how being lied to feels.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I would recommend playing a game with her.....find her favorite small treat (M&M, skittles, etc), three dark/colored cups. With her not looking hid a candy under one cup, move them around, and have her guess where it is....she gets to eat it if she guesses. Continue to do so a few times to build trust with her. Then after she is good and going, the next time, do NOT put the candy under it. She should be shocked or bummed. Ask her how that makes her feel.....does she trust you to put candy under the cup the next time.......etc. This is the most concrete way I have found for this issue.

Good luck,

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Chicago on

We had to go through this on and off with my SD. Seems like she'd go through phases with it.

We had better luck addressing the real issue rather than the lie. The lie is just because they didn't do what they were supposed to do and don't want to get in trouble. It actually takes more creativity to lie! We had to address why she didn't do the task in the first place.

My SD lied about washing her hands because she didn't like cold water. Instead of telling us this, she would just lie and tell us she DID wash her hands and then we'd yell at her for lying. Didn't work! Once we found out WHY she didn't wash her hands (cold water) we showed her how letting the water run until it was warm solved the problem.

My SD didn't do everything she was supposed to before bed because she wanted to hurry up and get ready so she could watch more TV before lights out. We solved this by shutting off the TV 30 minutes before bed, and the TV would not go on until the next day. She had no reason to go fast so she did everything on her list.

My SD lied about brushing her hair too. It hurt! A haircut, better shampoo and conditioner and detangle spray solved that issue.

My SD still lies about cleaning her room. She just gets overwhelmed, even at age 9. I give her one task at a time for her room e.g. pick up all your clothes. Now put away all your stuffed animals. etc.

My SD stopped lying about chores and tasks once we figured out all her resistance reasons. She will still say she cleaned her room when she really didn't do much, but I take that as less of a "lie" and more of a misunderstanding of how to clean a room since I get the impression that she truly thinks it's clean.

In each case you have to look at WHY your child is lying and address that. The resistance to do a task...why don't they want to do it? Sometimes it does just take a "we have to do that because that is the way it is," but bringing your child to that understanding will help a lot.

At age 5 she may be unsure how to do something, or need more supervision to stay on task. Good luck!

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answers from Portland on

I recently read Nurture Shock, co-authored by Po Bronson, in which he shares actual research about what children lie about, and why. Here's a link to pretty much the same material:

If you can understand what your child is trying to accomplish by lying, you'll have a greater chance of comprehending her needs and her strategies for meeting those needs. To make that an even more effective "conversation," I hope you will read the wonderful book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish. Seriously, you will wonder how you got this far without it.

In a few practical and wise lessons, the authors teach you how to draw out your child so you can understand her better, how to make her part of the problem-solving team, and increase the mutual respect and regard between you.

You may find that the problem significantly shrinks, and that punishment will be less of an issue. But meanwhile, make the punishment fit the crime as closely as possible. Here's one very nice activity that can help parents (and teachers) assign positive consequences for everyday offenses: (scroll down a little).

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

All kids lie. There is good research to this effect. There is also good research that shows that punishment just results in more lies. It doesn't really matter what you think is 'right', in this instance it matters what truly works. This is a great article.

'Consequences' don't work. In fact in cultures where lying carries way more serious consequences than spanking or time outs, it turns out the kids are just way better liars.

(it turns out that a hug and 'thank you for the truth' is way more effective than punishment, time outs or being mad)

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answers from Salt Lake City on

Don't ask her, tell her.
"Go wash your hands." "Get your brush so I can help you with your hair." "After you go potty and wash your hands, then I'll read your bedtime story." "Let's brush our teeth together tonight!"

Your description makes me wonder whether family meal time has become a battleground. Why is she not interested in eating? Don't make it a big deal. Talk about pleasant things during dinner and when dinner is over, it is over. (No snacks.) ... Give her a new way to help Mommy by clearing her own place after dinner.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I second Peg's recommendation of the book "Nurtureshock". It's helped me to understand children in several areas. One is lying.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I think my husbands idea is a fantastic idea. Instead of punishing with taking things away, grounding etc... he thinks talking to the kids is a worse punishment. I'm not talking about your quick, you did something wrong talk, I'm talking about the talks that go on and on and on and on and on and on...OK you get the point I know, lol.

Last night our almost 5 yo boy deliberatley disobeyed me on something I told him he wasn't to do. When he saw me, he immediately got up, so we both knew he was sneaking it.

I calmly went over to him and told him how disapointed I was that he had purposefuly disobeyed me. He started bawling because he knew he had done wrong. I put him to bed and he begged me not to tell daddy when he gets home. I told him I was going to tell daddy because daddy needs to know.

He started bawling again and I asked him why he didn't want me to tell daddy and he said because he didn't want daddy to talk to him because daddy talks too much, lol! Oh, and my husband is never in a hurry when he talks, so punishments literally do go on forever. Sometimes I even feel punished when I have to listen in, lol!

So, my suggestion for you, is to start talking and talking and talking.... :)

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answers from Pittsfield on

Don't beat yourself up over it, this is actually pretty normal. If you google "5 year olds and lying", you'll get a bunch of articles. Here's one of them:

Hang in there!! :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

One thing a teacher friend of mine told me early on was always very helpful to me as they grew, she said, "5 year olds don't make good maids."

Remember that, as you worry about your child being a "liar."

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I really love Peg's suggestion of the Po Bronson article and book. I read the article a few months ago and it was an eye-opener.

I think you have received some great, positive techniques to try: getting to the root of what's bugging her about some tasks; involving her in kitchen cleanup, and even just understanding how youngsters think about truth/not truth. The one thing I would add is not to set your daughter up to test her truthfulness. For example, if you know she did not wash her hands, don't ask her *if* she did, just tell her, as Wickerparkgirl and Kalualani suggested. And if you know she *did* do something wrong, do not ask her *if* she did it (because you will be tempting her to lie) but how she wants to correct the problem.

Otherwise, awesome advice, ladies!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

catch her when she has lied (and you know it), look her in the eye at her level, and talk to her about the truth. not what you want to have happened, not what you think might have happened, but what REALLY happened. ask her what the TRUTH is. don't let up on her until she admits the lie. and i would make punishment less severe when she owns up to it. like if she forgets to feed the dog, but she says she did. i do timeouts -but my 4 year old knows, there's a big difference between going to time out in very SERIOUS trouble, with a mad mommy, or going with a hug and a "thank you for telling me the truth!" he is only four, and i've only had to do this two or three times, but that's what i've done. hope it works long term! (haven't caught him lying to me in quite awhile...*knock on wood*!)



answers from Dallas on

Hmm... Duct tape on the mouth? Just kidding...



answers from Washington DC on

Are you serving too much food? Kids have small stomachs. Often parents don't listen when kids say they are full. Try letting her serve herself. You may find the portions much smaller and she'll probably eat all she serves herself.


answers from Dallas on

You should let her own her consequences for lying. For example, when she hides her dinner, and you ask her, "Did you finish your dinner?" and she says, ''Yes'', and you find that she did not, you say, "Since you chose to lie to me, you have shown me that I can not believe what you say." Remind her of this constantly. Next meal, lift her plate, lift her glass, look for the 'hidden' food, all the while reminding her, "I wish I could believe what you say." Use the same process for all the lies she tells. After a few days of that, she will understand that when she lies, people don't trust her. She will understand that she chose the consequence. When she chooses not to lie, make sure you let her know that she is earning your trust back. When you don't find food under her plate, you can tell her, "Oh, I guess you chose to tell me the truth this time. Maybe I can believe you now!"

Kids are capable of learning powerful messages when we let them own their own failures instead of being overbearing and forcing our own agendas on them.

I'm currently reading the book Love & Logic. Might help you out!



answers from Dallas on

The known punishment in our house for lying is getting your mouth washed out with soap. I have 3 children and I have only done it once. HUGE deterrent! :) Good luck.



answers from Dallas on

I seriously wouldn't worry about the food. She shouldn't hide it, but let her know she doesn't have to eat it all. Break meal time into steps (how many bites she needs to eat before she can leave the table...etc.). If she continues to hide it, give her a natural consequence...she has to clean it up. My fall back statement to my kids when they kick up a fuss over something they don't want to do is: "you don't have to like it, you just have to do it". I'd stop the punishments and switch to "earned consequences". I learned this term and technique when my oldest daughter started kindergarten (6yrs ago). All actions have consequences. Good actions earn you good consequences. Bad actions mean you've earned bad consequences. Isn't that how the whole world works, anyway? If she chooses not to clean her room, then she's also choosing to stay in it until she does clean it. The sooner she cleans it, the sooner she can play outside, or go to the park...etc. What works in our house is that I DO NOT engage when the whining and crying starts. That's the deal breaker. They will always get what they need of well as encouraging words and praise for even small steps toward their goal, but I never argue or converse back and forth...and NEVER do I EVER give in. Once I give them a task to perform (wahing hands or brushing teeth...etc) that's what is going to happen. I will stand in the door and wait for an hour if I have to...I gaurantee you'll only have to do that once. I hope some of these ideas help...good luck.



answers from Jacksonville on

My sister did this and my mom tried everything to no avail...really she just had to grow out of it....but I would make sure to keep up with the discipline and letting her know that it is disappointing behavior. Now my sister is not so much a liar as a drama queen that can stretch anything to make it seem more dramatic than it really was, lol! :) We usually just have a good laugh at her theatrics. :)



answers from New York on

we tried time outs the first few lies, but they didn't really work. one of the successful things we've done is give an "allowance" for good behavior. jr is still a little too young to fully understand how much money he receives, but he gets a kick out of getting coins for his piggy bank. he also understands that when he helps bring in the groceries or take out the bathroom garbage or something like that he gets a reward. he also knows that he gets to roll up the coins and buy toys with it. this is also great and fun way for him to learn about counting by 5s, 10s, and money in general. so when he outright lies he gets a small handful of coins taken out of his piggy bank. he doesn't like this because he knows he worked for his coins and they are important to him. it only happened once that his bank got almost depleted and he wanted a truck or something and we told him he didn't have enough allowance because he told too many lies. ever since then he's not tried to lie or hide things. it's more about the rewards for GOOD stuff then punishment for the not so good. we also started a sticker system. he got a big sticker each day he didnt lie, and other stickers for other good behaviors. at the end of the week if he collected enough stickers he'd get to go do something like go to chuck e cheese, or we got him a 99cent fish another time. even more coins have been a reward for going a week with no lies. we mix it up each week depending on him and what is the most reasonable thing to do... i mean you cant get a fish every week lol.

we also let him know that he would get in more trouble for lying than if he told the truth about not doing something he was supposed to, or for doing something he shouldn't have. and we kept to our word and showed him that telling the truth is way better. its good to show a kid how to be trustworthy by showing them an example of it....and as Ginny mentioned, once we tried the lying to him about something insignificant thing too. Something like, oh we're going to the park. wait no we're not that was a lie. and then asked him if it felt nice to be lied to, and of course he said no. still we felt bad afterwards and tried new things. he DID understand, but we didn't want to keep doing it. all these things together seemed to have done the trick, but only time will tell.

overall though, lying is a perfectly normal thing that kids do. so its not worth getting too upset about. they grow out of it. it's also a good sign when a kid knows how to lie. it shows how much they really do understand.

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