Not Telling the Truth!

Updated on January 06, 2010
M.H. asks from Blackwood, NJ
13 answers

My daughter just turned three and I have caught her not telling me the truth a few times lately. I used to always know she would tell me the truth and now this sudden "fibbing" is upsetting me! My husband thinks I am overreacting and that this a phase that will pass and doesn't mean it will be a lasting character trait. I read somewhere that you can't expect a toddler to tell the truth when they think they are going to get in trouble. I think you should be able to grasp this concept at 3! Any thoughts? Does anyone know a good book about disciplining toddlers?

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answers from Philadelphia on

At that age, kids aren't necessarily lying. I have read numerous places that kids either say what they want to believe, or that their short term memory isn't fully developed yet or just really short and they have great imagination. They aren't lying to get out of being in trouble or anything, but it will pass. Do some research before deciding if and when to punish her for it.

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answers from Williamsport on

This is how we handle this in our house-my daughter is now 4.

When I was young, we were immediately firmly disciplined to the max for any small fib and it was made very clear that a lie was about the worst thing you could ever do. It was effective and we had no confusion, and as young kids, we never lied. As teens....different story, different phase and we tried not to get caught lying (and we did know it was wrong and feel bad)-and if they found out, again, big time consequences for our older rage scale, and we felt we deserved it.....but back to young kids.

I'm a bit more of a softie, even though lying can get way out of hand and should NOT be allowed. The first time my daughter "told me what I wanted to hear" around 3-ish, I sat her down and explained what a lie was and that you should never do it. I gave her similar talks a couple more times. The next time she had a choice between the truth and a lie and I saw her foundering, I cut her off before she answered and said, "OK, right now, if you say the truth, everything will be OK, but if you tell a lie, you will have a consequence." She was very reluctant to tell the truth, so I prompted her again that if she did not tell the truth she would get a consequence. She finally choked out the truth and I gave her a huge hug and praise, even though the news wasn't the best, I just wanted her to see it was right to confess. The next time she did not tell the truth, she got firm discipline. Now she totally understands the concept and hasnt' told any more lies, but she is still learning how hard it is to tell the truth. I'm still giving her praise for telling the truth no matter what the circumstance is, just to nail the point home until she's a little older and more set in the understanding. Same with the discipline if she lies.

Discipline is absolutely necessary-it's human nature to not tell the truth.
Our close friend's daughter did not get disciplined for lying starting around 3, and now at age 6 she is super devious, always framing her siblings for things and trying to get other kids in trouble, and you can't believe anything she says despite the many "talks" they've had with her. She especially fibs to friends and strangers and at school-her teacher has sent home several messages about it.
Crack down! It's important!

OK-just read all these others about not comprehending at three. Sorry, my daughter totally understood it-same with other young kids I know. Thus the reason for wanting to "magically" avoid the truth rather than really not knowing better like when they're younger. Lying is not because they really can't comprehend. These authors DO NOT give kids intelligence enough credit.

A great book is Back to Basics Discipline, a Program to Raise Extraordinary Children by Janet Campbell Matson. Check out the website for preview:

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answers from York on

hi M.. my daughter just turned 3 as well. she goofs off and is silly and sometimes tells silly fibs when we are just all being silly together. however we do not tolerate lies at all. for my daughter, i know that she does know the difference between the two. in my opinion, and our personal situation, she is a lot smarter than some people give her credit for. i think sometimes people don't give kids enough credit for what they are capable of comprehending when given the chance.

i respectfully disagree with 'most' phases passing on their own. i could be wrong, and they very well maybe pass all by themselves eventually for some families... but i see no harm in talking to your daughter and instructing her that lying will not tolerated. for me personally, ignoring ANY of my daughters 'stages' phases, whatever you want to call it, thus far... only makes her work for my attention even more, and get more enthralled in whatever stage she might be in.

she started lying at first this pass summer after being around kids in our family on a vacation who lied and got away with a lot more than she is used to. they lied so blatantly obvious, that my then 2 1/2 year old was even able to pick on it and it got her wheels turning to see what they were able to get away with from their parents. ( i do understand she would have learned to lie anyway regardless of this incident.)

anyway, she started trying to lie about everything when we got home from this trip... she was testing the theory that worked for these other kids. and i got a hold on it right away and made sure she knew lying was not ok and there would be consequences.

so just me personally, my daughter understood this quickly at age 2 1/2, so i really don't think its too much to expect of your daughter to not lie. it's just my opinion though and i dont mean any disrespect by it at all. it depends on what you want for your family. if it's little silly lies/fibbing/joking around and she knows the difference between the two... then i see no harm. i would just hate for more serious lying to go ignored and she get's the idea that its ok and nothing wrong with it and continues to do so as time passes.

i hope you find something that works for your family and your situation.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I remember reading that toddlers really do not know (or should I say GRASP) the difference between the truth and what they may want to believe. I think it is a phase and it will pass. My mom always told my son about the difference between "the truth" and "a story." Maybe at the dinner table, tell her about seeing a unicorn walking along the street or something like that and it will open up a discussion about truth vs. stories.


I know the moms on this site are experts on lots of things, but no O. can be an expert on EVERYTHING! Here are some useful sites for your review about fibbing at the very tender age of "JUST TURNED 3": Lying Behavior Before Age Three - Children May Not Be Aware They Are Lying
Before age three, your child is still acquiring very basic speech. She can understand much more than she can accurately express. She is only beginning to learn how to use her speech to cause events and to describe her thoughts and behaviors. When confronted with a child who is lying, it is important to first remember the child's age and developmental stage. Children under the age of 3 do not lie on purpose. This age group does not understand what they are saying and instead are just experimenting with language and new found facts about the world. They might also lie to avoid punishment because they understand the consequences but have an undeveloped moral code.

Children from the ages of 3 to 7 often have problems separating the real world from fantasy. They might have imaginary playmates at this age and enjoy fairy tales and make-believe play. The lies told by this age group are mostly tales that they have made up, not intentional lies. By the age of 6 or 7, however, children understand what lying is, but will continue to cheat if able. At this age, wishes and imagination often get in the way of what is real. Sometimes a 3 year old will start to tell a story, and you will hear it get out of hand as he adds bits and pieces to fit the ideas in his head. Lies at this age might succeed, but 3 year olds are generally poor liars because they fail to lie appropriately. They do not consider that their listener will actually think about either the statement or their intention. As a result, they tend to lie at the wrong time or place, or neglect to think about other important facts, such as covering their tracks to conceal the deception.

By age 4, children know the difference between telling the truth and lying — and they know it's wrong to lie. So, generally, they're truthful, and when they're not it's obvious. But they also become more proficient at lying because they're more cognitively capable of taking into account the listener's belief of their statement.

M., there seems to be a consensus that BY AGE 4, kids are beginning to understand lying and are also being taught by parents how to engage in social lying. They can also lie to avoid unpleasant consequences.

They lie to get out of trouble, not to get into it," explains Susan Shapiro, Ph.D, MS,MS, RD, FADA, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles who practices in child development. "Unlike adults, who will lie to impress and flatter, children will lie when they feel there are under a reward and punishment system.

Young children (ages 4-5) often make up stories and tell tall tales. This is normal activity because they enjoy hearing stories and making up stories for fun. These young children may blur the distinction between reality and fantasy. Tattletales are another method these children utilize but more self-serving: If they tell on their friends they may be looked upon as the more honest and trustworthy of the group.

As you can see, it is very unlikely that at 3 years and a few weeks, that she is doing this on purpose, or even grasps the concept of lying let alone the implications of lying.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

In all honesty, I WISH I had written the following, but don't want to LIE and pass it off as my own (tehe)!

Your toddler lies because at this age she's not yet able to differentiate between reality and fantasy. Until she's 3 or 4, your toddler won't fully grasp the concept of lying, because he doesn't yet understand the idea of an objective truth based in fact. Instead, at this point his imagination is in overdrive, fueling the need to embellish. If his books are in a jumbled pile on the floor instead of arranged neatly in his bookcase, she may say that she tripped and hit the bookcase, causing an avalanche of books, when she may have just pulled out a few and the rest followed by accident.She may also quickly forget just how an event took place. Did she track mud into the kitchen, or did the dog do it? Was it her or her friend who scrawled on her bedroom walls during their last playdate?

Another reason your toddler sometimes appears to stretch the truth is "magical thinking." According to experts, when a toddler wishes an event had taken place one way instead of another, she may stretch the truth because she actually believes that saying it will make it so. For example, let's say your toddler yanks a toy out of her baby sister's hand, causing her to burst into tears, then feels sorry she did it. So when you ask what happened, she says she dropped the toy herself because she wishes so much that that's how it had happened that she comes to believe it.

But don't worry — your child isn't headed for a life of crime just because she fibs once in a while. Taking on the mantle of parents' and society's behavioral standards and rules can be a tall task for a toddler. Here are some ways you can help your child learn to practice truthfulness:

* Encourage honesty. Instead of coming down hard on her when she lies, thank your toddler when she's being direct and tells the truth. You might say: "That's great that you told me about the broken truck. Now I understand how it got that way."

* Avoid putting your child on the spot. Try not to question her about the details of a transgression. After all, in many cases it's patently obvious; if she has chocolate all over her face, you know exactly what happened to her sister's candy. Often we question young children because we want them to confess, but this can create a battle where there doesn't need to be one.

* Act on what you know. In a matter-of-fact way, say, "Gee, Jackie, it's not okay to take some of Becky's candies. They're hers and it upsets her to lose them. Let's give her some of yours, okay?" By taking this tack, not only have you circumvented the "confess-you-are-lying" confrontation, but you've also led her through the process of reparation. In the long run, knowing how to make up is a more useful skill than knowing how to respond to an interrogation.

* Model trust. Show your toddler that you trust her and she can trust you by always telling her the truth. Make it a priority to keep your word, and apologize profusely if you break a promise. She'll learn more from your behavior than she ever could from your admonitions.


answers from Allentown on

Hi, M.:

Did you mean that your husband is a better father than he is as a husband?

Anyway: Diciplining your three year old child:

These are questions to ask her:

What happened?

What were you thinking of at the time?

What have you thought about since?

Who has been affected by what you have done? In what Way?

What do you think you need to do to make things right?

Good luck. Thanks for asking! D.



answers from Harrisburg on

Kids, especially toddlers, will lie. That is just a fact. But, just because we know this will happen and that it could be a phase, does not mean that we should accept it. It is our job as parents to teach them that this behavior is wrong and that it will get them into more trouble than whatever they are "fibbing" about.



answers from Allentown on

Good Day M.,

Just a reminder Ladies we are talking about a 3 year old.
What do you mean by lying?
For example: If you are asking her if she put her doll in the toilet and she says no; correct it by saying: I would like you to tell me the truth. The toilet is not a nice place to put your doll. Just explain that when she does not tell you the truth it makes you sad.

You state that you are a elementary school teacher. How did you handle lying from your students? Approach this situation the same way just remember you are dealing with a 3 year old not a 5 to 12 year old. As a teacher you are aware there is a huge difference between a 3 & 5 year old.

At 3 you can really get the point acrossed that is makes you very sad when she does not tell the truth.

Just a thought.

Mom of 4 Grandma of 1. Ages 25-20-6-5-3



answers from Pittsburgh on

I do think that it is a phase that will pass. It is completely developmentally appropriate. At 3 your daughter lacks the level of reason needed to grasp that concept. The more you focus on it, the longer it will last.

I HIGHLY recommend Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson (there is also on online community). There are versions for every level of development from birth to teens. It's all about discipline that is kind, firm and respectful that creates good self-esteem.





answers from Philadelphia on

I'm sure your daughter is a very bright girl, but it's definitely too, too early for her to understand what lying really means. I believe the developmental research shows that this really happens closer to 6, 7, 8 years old. Right now, she is likely expressing her imagination, or saying what she wishes were true, or what she thinks you want to hear--those are all fine things. You may want to think about what instigates these fibs--if you ask her, Did you spill X? when you know she did, and you saw her do it, and she says no---she may just wish she didn't or not want to disappoint you, so she says no. Better to not put her in a situation where her answer is "wrong." I also agree with your husband--this will pass as her understanding of words gets more sophisticated.
To answer your other question, about book suggestions, I recommend "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn, and "The Happiest Toddler on the Block" by Harvey Karp.



answers from Pittsburgh on

Lying is a completely normal stage at this age. They are often just checking to see what happens. However the fact that it is normal does not mean that you ignore it, nor do you overrract and treat it as a federal crime. The first rule is, if you know that she did something, don't ask, did you do this. That just sets her up for lying. If she did something she is not supposed to do, just say, I know you did this. If you do find out at some point that she lied, just tell her you know now that she lied, that it is wrong to lie. I always have told my kids that they need to tell the truth so that I will know that they are truthful and if they do that I will tend to beleive them when it is unclear. Now that last concept is a bit much for a 3 year old but you can work towards that. And of course it is true that they will lie if they think it will get them out of trouble so if she does tell the truth about something you need to praise her for telling the truth and perhaps give her some grace on whatever she did. You don't want to crack down so hard that she does lie to save her own skin. I remember my oldest son at 4-- we found a bag of mini marshmallows that I had just bought being ripped open a little. I was pretty sure that he did it but not completely. He said no so I explained well we will have to throw the bag away then since it will not be safe to eat a bag of marshmellows ripped open at the store. He owned up right after that! A good book is Love and Logic by CLine and Fay-- they have a version for toddlers or preschoolers.



answers from Philadelphia on

M., my son turned 3 in October and is doing the exact same thing. Nothing too serious, but he definitely embelishes his stories or flat out makes them up.
Sometimes I choose to question him further and explain that what he is saying did NOT in fact happen. I tell him how important it is to tell the truth b/c there might come a time when he actually IS telling the truth but I won't believe him (crying wolf).
But for the most part, I would encourage you to stay calm and realize that she has a beautiful imagination! Also, be sure to praise her when she does tell the truth or changes her "fib" to the truth. She'll remember the positive reinforcement from those times.
Oh, and my daughter did the same thing around the age of 3 - she grew out of it - now she knows and understands when she's really lying and has strong convictions!


answers from Pittsburgh on

Children your daughters age are starting to engage in make-believe play. "Lying" and "pretending" seem like the same thing to them at this developmental stage.

Don't stress about it. She will continue to develop, and will eventually begin to grasp the difference (with your guidance) between lying and make-believe.

It is a stage of development, a phase if you will, and like all others, it will pass.

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