Why Does My Child Keep Lying To Me?

upset little ethic boy looking at faceless father during argument

Does your child keep lying to you, and you’re unsure what to do about it? Mikki has answers for you!


by Mikki Stone | Certified Behavioral Specialist and creator of the Ask Mikki column–a Q&A column dedicated to helping parents navigate behavioral issues with their children. You can follow her on Instagram @mikkigaffentstone

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Confidentiality Notice: All names below have been changed to keep people’s privacy a top priority.


Dear Mikki:

My child keeps lying to me. I ask her even a simple thing like “did you eat the last cookie?” She will say “No”, but I can see that she did! How do I stop her from lying? This worries me.

[names changed for confidentiality]

Answer:  

Hi Marie, that’s a great question and one that often comes up. Thanks for asking it! 

There are many things at play here, so I will unpack what I can, ok? I am guessing she is a younger child. Toddler or a little older. Am I close? So, assuming her young age, this is what I have for you.

Your child is young enough to want the things she wants when she wants them. She doesn’t accept “No” as a final answer because she’s too young to think “No” is a big deal. She’s still learning. She wanted that cookie and probably could not think of a reason why not–other than mom said “No”. 

Here’s the thing, she doesn’t fully understand why you saying “No” is important yet. Especially if she’s a very curious child, always investigating things, and you find yourself telling her “No” often during the day. If she hears “No” a lot, the word may not be significant for her. 

Strategy:

Track how many times you say “No” in a day. Check marks on a page will be fine. Whatever works for you. Was it a lot? Now you know where your baseline is–try saying “No” less often. Keep counting them so you can track the trend. Redirect her when you can and use other words to delay or stop what she’s doing, like “Wait! What’s that over there?” as you point to something. It’s not easy at first, but changing habits rarely is. This strategy is designed to help the word “No” to become more noteworthy when she does hear it. 

Have fun with it. Make it a game for yourself. What can you say or do instead of “No”?

Next item:

When you ask your child a question that you already know the answer to, you are effectively setting her up for failure. 

I know, right! I was surprised when I learned this too.

How it works is like this: Did she eat the cookie? Well, you can see she did from the chocolate on her face or the crumb trail, or something like that. So, she has a couple of options and not much life experience to think through them with:

  • Option A) say yes, get told off for eating the cookie. Hmmm. That doesn’t seem like a good choice. Nope.
  • Option B) try saying no, maybe get away with it and not get told off. Okay, that’s a bit better!

Which would any of us choose? Trouble, or the possibility of no trouble? Most of us would go for option B.

So, the child is instantly put in a very difficult position, and she really can’t win. 

Strategy:

Tell her, “I can see you ate the cookie even though I told you not to. Let’s get you cleaned up”. 

Where’s the punishment? Well, I’m not going to suggest one. It depends on whether you want to make this a big issue or not. Does eating a cookie when told not to, need a punishment? Your decision. My own choice would be to save the battle for bigger things, but that’s me.

Intentionally not putting her in a position to feel the need to lie is a great start. She won’t be used to lying when bigger things come along, and you really need to know about them. As she is already opting for B), I think your best choice is to use the above strategies, so she loses the habit. 

Please let me know what you find useful, and feel free to ask any follow up questions you have by emailing [email protected].


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