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How to Stop Kids From Lying

The Sly Way I Cured My Child's Lying Habit

When my second son was 4 he developed an amazing trait . . . the ability to lie. It was absolute talent. Most of the time I couldn't tell if he was telling me the truth or telling me a lie.

One occasion that stands out was when he had a small toy from a kid's meal. It wasn't a big deal, but for three hours I drilled him on where he got it and he repeatedly told me that he had found it at the playground. We went to bed that night, me exhausted, and I told my husband, "I just don't get it. I really thought he was telling me a lie." I cried because I felt I had persecuted my child.

We let it go and two days later, I learned the truth. My son had told me a lie. He had taken the toy from a little boy in our apartment complex. I was angry. I took action.


I promptly asked my son if he would like to go to the zoo, one of his most favorite places. He jumped up and down and cheered, "Yes!"

We went to the zoo, stood in line, and when we reached the ticket counter I announced, "We're not going to do this."

My son was surprised and sad.

I said, "Let's go get ice cream! Do you want to?"

He, of course, said, "Yes."

We went to his favorite ice cream shop and as we got up to the counter, I said, "We're not going to get ice cream today."

He was mad now. He said, "I don't like when you tell me we are doing something and then we don't."

I knelt down and said, "This is called a lie. It doesn't feel very good when someone lies to you, does it?"

Big tears leapt from his eyes and he shook his head "no."

I then gave him a hug and said, "I'll make you a deal. If you always tell the truth, things may not go your way. However, you most likely won't be in as much trouble. Telling lies hurts people and it makes them not trust you. Trust is a very hard thing to earn back. Let's decide we aren't going to tell anymore lies, OK?"

He agreed and that was the last of the lies at our house.

Image Source: Everett Collection
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BrandiAleman BrandiAleman 4 years
I hope this will work for my 6 year old. OMG she has started this lying kick! I don't know where she figured this out that it's ok, but I have tried everything to teach her it is not ok. I haven't tried this, but I am going too next time she lies! Thanks!
CoMMember1363003627304 CoMMember1363003627304 4 years
And rebekka, kudos for being such a wonderful mother. I'm so glad your children were so understanding of your limits! I imagine that you thank God everyday for such wonderful children. And I have really great kids. They're 19 & 18 now but they're still my babies.
CoMMember1363003627304 CoMMember1363003627304 4 years
Abusive??? That's ridiculous! Not having consequences? Ridiculous! What's going to happen to these children when they get to school and figure out that there are real world consequences for every action? Or is mama going to tell the teacher her child isn't to have any consequences?? If you consider this abusive or cruel then you've never been subjected to either one! I was raised in a very, very strict household that bordered on abusive & cruelty. If I could teach my child a lesson on lying and teach empathy at the same time I would be overjoyed. And the lady that quoted all the books, I suggest you do a study of you own on children lying. I know many, and I say many, kids that their parents thought lying was a phase and not a big deal. I'd guess 75% of these adults now are still lying and even 25% of these adults went through juvenile detention. I was a foster mother to several teenage girls and I was(still am) the hang out house. I set a honesty only policy in my house from day 1 & it's so unreal how hard that rule is to follow for some many teens. They'd been lying since they were little and they had to learn to tell the truth. Kudos go out to this mother who nipped this behavior in the bud before it became exponentially worse.
DeniseArbuckle DeniseArbuckle 4 years
And for what it's worth - This child has actually thanked me on multiple occasions for helping her to understand WHY she shouldn't behave in a certain manner. She says, "My mom just yells at me and spanks me. She never tells me why I shouldn't make bad choices."
DeniseArbuckle DeniseArbuckle 4 years
It's been my experience with parenting that in order to teach children how it FEELS to be lied to, etc., you have to SHOW them how it feels. You can't just tell them because they don't get it. I've never had to actually resort to this with my biological kids, but I can see where the poster is coming from on this issue. My kids are now 21, 16, and 14, and are very well-adjusted. Now, I'm a bonus mom to a six-year-old girl. She has an EXTREMELY hard time with behavior in terms of not understanding how it feels to be lied to, hurt, etc. Her bio mom doesn't appear to take the time to teach the girl anything; instead, she hits and yells. So, I've had to resort to this type of action because it's the ONLY way to get her attention, and it's WORKING. Example - Several months ago, she kept going on and on about how she couldn't wait to go home to her mom's house. I asked her if she would miss us when she went back to her mom's house. She said that when she's with mom, she has so much fun that she forgets about us (a lie, but that's another story). So, a few minutes later, I started saying how I was starting to get really excited. She asked why, and I told her it was because she was leaving at the end of the day. She asked if we'd miss her, and I told her that we usually have so much fun while she's gone that we forget all about her. She looked sad, and I asked her how it felt when I said that. She said it hurt her feelings. I said, "Now do you know how dad and I feel when you tell us that you can't wait to leave?" Maybe some people will find that "appalling," but it really works with this child. In fact, in the two+ years that I've been in her life, it's the ONLY thing that works.
RebeccaKauffman RebeccaKauffman 4 years
In answer to your question about those who find this parent's mind games appalling, I have three children now in their twenties. My children were well mannered, good playmates. I never had to resort to these harsh tactics. We talked, I set limits, I always believed in their inner goodness and trusted they would come through whatever problems we had. And they have. I was not interested in breaking their spirit in this way. I also tried to set a good example. We were not a perfect family, but we emphasized love, joy in life, and trust they we could learn with kind, caring , and sometimes firm but not harsh ways.I tried to look at where they were developmentally, what they needed to learn. I wanted our family to be a place where they could be themselves, where we were all safe and could find comfort and trust. They knew they could count on us as guides and to be in their corner. They also knew it was important to think about others and to help others when they could. I am glad my parents were good examples to me of gentle yet firm parenting. No mind games such as the one in the article- whether fact or a lie.
Rebecca-Ellen14506289 Rebecca-Ellen14506289 4 years
I have to wonder if the people who are appalled by this article (fact or fiction) have children, and if so, if they are the ones I, a stranger, have to tell to share, take turns, don't hit, etc. while at the playground because their own parents won't. At 4, while a child will model most behaviors, they also are testing boundaries. No amount of being truthful with a 4 will teach them "why" the behavior is wrong. Unless there is a specific incident in the recent past where the child was the victim of a lie, no amount of "explaining" will end this either, for some (most) children. Their brains literally can not process such abstract ideas. While this may not be the best way for every child, I'm willing to bet it'll work on most. Who's to say they didn't reward the child for learning this lesson by doing something better than the zoo or ice cream. And as for biting...I bit back each of my children. By that, I mean I covered my teeth with my lips and put their forarm in my mouth. This occurred between 6 & 9 mos. old. They were too young to remember it, but old enough to not do it again. Btw, I popped their hands too if they reached for something they shouldn't have. I have an incredible relationship with all of them! They are well adjusted kids who still test boundaries and I will be creative & find what works for each of them. My job as a parent is to build up an adult who can be a successful & contributing part of society, if it sometimes means being harsh or controversial, so be it. They have friends they can go be honest with about me, because I have taught them how to be a friend.
jonbonjovious jonbonjovious 4 years
While my parenting may not be traditional, I have raised outstanding young me (23 and 20). They work hard for what they have, call often and have a network of well-mannered friends with the same core values. This idea evolved after so many failed attempts to get the point across. Sometimes children don't understand something. To say, "Lying hurts people." means nothing because they don't see this (if a child bites, he sees immediately that it hurts). I have six children. They are each different and each required thinking outside the box to drive a lesson home. I tried telling my children if they told the truth, they wouldn't get into trouble, but quickly learned that was an open window for anything goes. "Who spray painted the dog?" "I did (and since I told you this, I now have no consequences)". It's a great concept but it teaches entitlement. We practice, "start with the truth and your consequences won't be as heavy" because we simply cannot get away with something because we said we did. For us, it was finding away to show my child the frustration that was taking place. The "I want to believe you so much, but..." There was no abuse. In fact, this child and I have been very close. He has come to me about things in his life most mother's would never hear from her child. I have read The Boy Who Cried Wolf. His fate was death by the Big Bad Wolf. Telling a child you don't believe them when you KNOW they are telling the truth (smelling the toothpaste on their breath) is a teaches, "Why would I tell her..." I shared with my son the golden rule...that his actions were setting him up for failure in so many ways--they were hurting others, and hurting him. Whether he knew this or not. I wanted him to experience this first know what those feelings I had preached to him over and over felt like to be hurt. It didn't cause him to distrust me; it made him realize the reality of his choices.
Nancy14583950 Nancy14583950 4 years
I really think many of you are over thinking this article and taking it way too seriously. Everyone has their own way of parenting - this mom just shared what worked for HER! I constantly lied to my parents and was in so much trouble during my teen years. I am happy that his article was written, because my 8 year old feels that it is OK to lie about everything! My niece learned it from my sister in law who is a white lie fibber constantly to the point that she has a real problem and can't remember what she has lied about!! So, I am all for nipping it in the bud whatever it takes. And who ever wrote (CoMMember) that your child doesn't get in to trouble when they tell you what they did wrong - you are no better! You are not teaching them consequences to their actions!! Just my opinion! I agree - think its a brilliant idea! How else are you going to teach a 4 year old the importance of telling the truth without giving him or her an example they can understand?
chris-dudley chris-dudley 4 years
Wow that is so amazing.. I think that is so incredible and I wonder if it would work on my 9 year old daughter, well almost 10 year old daughter. Next month she turns 10... She lies every chance she gets, but her father and I know almost all the time when she is lying, but she thinks she thinks she is swift enough to get away with it. We have been through each each lie and every way she tries to get away with it time and time again. Reading this story gave me some new ideas and hopefully it will work on a 10 year old going on 19!!
anonymousanonymous anonymousanonymous 4 years
boy, did I have a lot of typos in the my last posting. trying to do 3 things at once:)
anonymousanonymous anonymousanonymous 4 years
How many of the people who think this form of discipline is horrible have ever been a teacher? I know this sounds like a cliche but I'll say it anyway, each generation is getting worse! Our society has made so many excuses for our youth's bad behavior. It starts when they are young. Although it is normal for a child to lie it is not normal for a parent to do the right thing by nipping it in the bud! If these behaviors are not corrected when children are young, they turn into bigger problems as they get older. Why can't these mothers see this?! I have a very good friend who has 2 nephews and a neice with behavioral problems galore. Their 5 year old has been kicked out of one day care and constantly gets notes sent home by another. He hits, kicks, and tells people to "shut the f*** up" to guests if he doesn't like them. When I correct my children for things that they have done wrong, my friend's brother tells me that I should let them be kids and to not worry about the small stuff. Guess what, my kids aren't angels but they know how to behave when they are not at home. My friend's oldes nephew lies constantly at the age of 12 and bullies his mother and 2 younger siblings. He started lying at the ripe young age of 4 and no one ever corrected this. Yes, it is normal for kids to lie but it's not normal for parents to ignore this. Wake up and smell the coffee people!!!
AnneHamilton7586 AnneHamilton7586 4 years
@ChrisDwinell: I'm the tooth-brushing mom, and I take exception to your last statement. Saying "Why should I believe you now?" is a lie tells me that 1) you misunderstand and don't know what a lie is, and 2) you've never heard the story of "The boy who cried wolf." The point was that I let my daughter know, without lying, that when someone lies all the time, there's a good chance that nobody will believe them even when they're telling the truth. If I had said "I don't believe you brushed your teeth," that would be a lie. I was careful not to say anything that was a lie. She was four, she got the point, and she would have recognized the hypocrisy if I had lied to her. My way of bringing up my kids was to allow them to experience the natural consequences of their actions. And disbelief of all statements of a liar, whether or not they were lies, is a natural consequence. Lesson was learned. I will now go back to polishing my crown. (By the way: That daughter is now 32 and she tells me everything, even though it sometimes is TMI. Her 37-year-old sister is the same way. The proof is in the pudding.)
KatieBoman KatieBoman 4 years
*is viewed as...* dumb phone... ;)
KatieBoman KatieBoman 4 years
Categorizing lying in young children as a typical phase that rarely leads to chronic discipline problems is a big, fat cop-out, and a major contributor to the rampant unruliness our teachers have to put up with in our country from our kids at all educational levels. We live in an ugly, dangerous world. We should be teaching our kids the importance of unconditional trustworthiness early, and it can be done without stifling their imaginations and creativity, but only if we can stop viewing tactics like the ones used by the O.P. as cruel and unusual. Seriously, if her demonstration of the repercussions of *not* treating others how we wish to be know, otherwise known as The Golden Rule...I'd viewed as mean, abusive parenting, then our society and culture I'd doomed, indeed.
RebeccaKauffman RebeccaKauffman 4 years
This article by Hacker is an excellent summary. good resources are Your Four Year old by Ames and Ilg-Gesell Institute and Raising Your Spirited Childby Mary Sheedy. Lying in a four year old can be annoying but it is normal and does not mean your child is on the road to a terrible adolescence.Your own anxiety and overreaction can make things so much worse. "Children experiment with lying at various developmental stages. Childhood lying is unlikely to become a long-term discipline problem. Most parents worry when their child lies for the first time. It's easy for the parental mind to wander to memories of troubled kids who lied continuously. Fear that their own child will turn into a habitual liar is usually not far behind. But, for most children, lying is a passing phase that is rooted in normal child development. Why do Some Children Lie? Lying is actually typical, age-appropriate behavior for children throughout certain stages of childhood. Louise Bates Ames mentions lying in the book Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful (Dell, 1976). Ames states that age four is a time when most children brag, exaggerate and lie. She adds that parents should not worry or fuss too much about their child's lying. Children lie for various reasons: Lying is convenient. Many children will not want to stop their play to do something mundane, like wash hands, so they will lie and say they already did. Lying is sometimes used to avoid taking responsibility for a transgression. Nobody wants to get in trouble. A child will sometimes lie to avoid punishment. Lying is a form of wishful thinking. Children sometimes create stories that are exaggerations of their own life to make it sound more exciting. How to Teach Honesty to Children While lying is generally nothing to worry about for most children, parents can and should strive to teach honesty. In Connection Parenting [Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, Inc., 2005], author Pam Leo reminds us that if we want our children to be honest, we must be honest. Honesty is best taught by modeling. Always tell the truth to your children. Be aware of the different ways in which adults can lie to each other and avoid those scenarios in front of children. Be wary of setting your child up to lie. If you know your four-year-old has not washed his hands after going to the bathroom, avoid asking him if he has. Chances are he will lie and say that he did. Instead of asking, give him a reminder to wash his hands or ask him if he needs help washing his hands. Avoid using the label “liar” when a child is exaggerating. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of Raising Your Spirited Child [Harper, 1991], says that negative labels can be devastating for children. Negative labels highlight undesirable characteristics, while hiding the positive characteristics. Instead of labeling an exaggerating child a liar, use words like creative and imaginative. If your child is lying to avoid punishment, be careful how you approach discipline. As with the hand washing example, don't ask questions that you already know the answer to. If you know your child broke something, don't ask if he did it. Instead, discuss the incident without unnecessary questions. Most importantly, practice thoughtful, gentle discipline that won't create a fear of punishment that leads to lying. Most children go through a lying phase. These phases are typical and a part of normal child development. Parents can model honesty, avoid setting their children up to lie, avoid negative labels and practice thoughtful, gentle discipline." Sources: Leo, Pam. Connection Parenting: Parenting through Connection instead of Coercion, Through Love instead of Fear. Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, Inc.: Deadwood, Oregon. 2005. Kurcinka, Mary Sheedy. Raising Your Spirited Child. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, New York. 1991. Ames, Louise Bates & Francis L. Ilg, M.D. Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful. Dell Publishing, New York, New York. 1976.
anonymousanonymous anonymousanonymous 4 years
@KatieBoman - well put. For those who deemed this as abusive and cruel - you have obviously haven't been treated cruely or you wouldn't think this is that bad. Many of us know cruel: beatings, verbal abuse, neglect. This mother didn't do any of these things. Keep indulging bad behaviors and see what you'll get in the teen years.
Ann14577322 Ann14577322 4 years
When my children were little I used to tell them if they told lies they would get spots on their tongue, I would then ask them to show me their tongue if they refused to show it you knew they were lying. Worked every time.
KatieBoman KatieBoman 4 years
Wow... see, this is why we, as a nation, have such record-breaking numbers of ill-behaved, disrespectful children. I cannot believe how many people are offended by this. *I* think it's BRILLIANT!!! Because, see, little kids do stuff that works, or that they think will work, regardless of the example set by the parents. Kids that bite other kids don't *learn* it from parents that bite them, folks. They get the urge to bite, and keep it up as long as they can get away with it. *Most* kids that hit don't hit because their parents taught them to hit by hitting them. Anyone can tell you that abused kids are the *last* ones to be hitting on the playground, because they are TERRIFIED of the repercussions of stepping out of line when they get home. Kids that hit get an urge that, frankly, is primal for every human animal, and must be deprogrammed. And little kids, long before they can be taught the value of integrity by example, which takes most of their childhood, they will lie. If they get away with lying, it doesn't matter what example we set, they'll go with what works for them. The faster you can take away the gratification of getting away with misbehavior through lies, the more and better time they'll have to get the example. This kid didn't just lie, he lied about stealing. There is no example that can be set that would address the consequenses he needed for stealing AND for lying. These were EXCELLENT, NON-ABUSIVE consequences. Abuse would be telling him what's for dinner, and then depriving him of it. Ice cream is not a necessity of life, nor is a trip to the zoo. It's not like she said he could never have ice cream or trips to the zoo again, for Gods' sake!! I had to go the hard way when it was my older dd trying to lie to me about what was going on at school, when her kindergarten teacher started reporting unruly behavior to me, with repeated and increasingly heated verbal attempts to get her to knock it off, until finally had a screaming crying fit where I basically threatened to never believe anything she ever said, ever. It was awful, especially for a woman with such dreadful trust issues because of the things my mother did to me, and denied me, because her booze was more important to her. I hope when my baby dd hits this stage, I remember the example the OP has set, and save all of my family the headache of months of struggle with the lying of a preschooler who will never, ever get the benefit of even the best example without consequences for behavior that goes against the example I try to set.
kcweihs kcweihs 4 years
If only it was that easy. You can't teach honesty, trust and integrity by teaching them the opposite, negative, undesirable behavior. You teach it by Showing someone what it means to be honest and trustworthy.
Katrina14576855 Katrina14576855 4 years
I'm surprised that people are saying this is abusive. It's one thing to disagree with the method and of course there are 100s of things that parents are going to disagree with one another about, but there's a big difference between an opinion that something is too harsh (or that it couldn't really work) and calling it abusive. Assuming that the article is truthful (lol) the mother let her son down twice, in immediate succession, before he verbalised what she was doing that he didn't like. I'm surprised that anyone could believe that this one-off action will scar him for life! And I agree with those who say that it's completely different from hitting or biting a child to teach him not to do the same.
CoMMember13611203090153 CoMMember13611203090153 4 years
Would you hit your child to teach them not to hit? Would you swear at your child to teach them not to swear? Would you gossip to your child to teach them not to gossip about their friends? Would you steal in front of them to teach them not to steal? Or... as a parent... would you model the behavior you expect from your child?!? Why in the world would you lie to your child and expect a 4 year old to make that connection beyond the fact that mommy was mean today?!? My children don't lie to me because, in our house, if they tell me the truth, no matter how bad it is, there is no consequence save the natural one (if I catch a lie... that's a different story. But if they come to me first, I'm all ears.). My son just told me he ripped a hole in his pajamas and destroyed them. The consequence is his favorite pajamas are gone. But there was no other consequence. No yelling. No punishment. He will even come to me and say "Mommy, I did _______, but I told the truth, so there's no consequence, right?" I may cringe at what he has done, but he is TALKING to me and telling me what he did. I'm setting the stage for when he's a teenager and he can trust that I will listen and not punish unjustly. Please think before you choose to lie to your children to "teach" them not to lie!!!! It's just mean!
shelley26903 shelley26903 4 years
I think it taught an excellent lesson and apparently it worked.
RebeccaKauffman RebeccaKauffman 4 years
I think this whole article should be flagged as abusive. This type of overly harsh punishment can have long lasting destructive consequences. It teaches the child not to trust his mother or authority. The child may become very sneaky, angry, or depressed. The punishment she has doled out huge doses is not a healthy way to teach a child appropriate behavior. Wonder how this child will treat the mother when she is old and vulnerable.Parenting is about teaching children how to be in the world and it is about the joy of life and respect for each person. This goes against all these goals. If I had to resort to such tactics, I would question what has gone wrong in my family. I do think this is a made up story. It is sadistic and cruel.
anonymousanonymous anonymousanonymous 4 years
This was absolutely brilliant! Seriously - it was. Yes, most kids go through the "lying" stage but few of us are equipped enough to figure out a good strategy to stop the lying. I can't believe there are mothers who are criticizing this mother for trying to stop her child's lying by using a creative approach that helps to instill empathy for others. This child now has a better understanding of what it feels like when a person is lied to. How many of us can teach that to our children? Instead, we try talking to them which goes in one ear and out the other. Other mothers spank which is such a controversial discipline method. This is not the same as biting a child who has bitten others!!! That was an absurd comparison. This is not a violent approach to parenting but instead it teaches the child how to see things from another's perspective. At least this mother is doing what she feels is necessary to raise a decent human being. I see so many pampered and narcissistic children who are so over-indulged because their parents couldn't bare to discipline them as young children when necessary. Kudos to this mother and I hope it isn't an urban legend.
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