I have a close relationship with my 3 year old child. This means that since I have told her that I hate lies and love truth so she should speak the truth with her parents at least all the time, she has started speaking the truth.

This all started when she wrote on the wall despite being told several times in the past not to do it. When I asked about it, she lied. I had asked in a loud voice so she started crying. This time I let her cry.

Finally when she got tired of crying, I again told her to tell the truth. She complied and I immediately hugged and thanked her for telling the truth. Then I lovingly explained to her why she shouldn't write on the walls and where she should write instead.

Since then, she tells the truth the second time I ask her the question about a deed.

I am afraid this won't last long because even though I hug her and thank her for being truthful, the thing which she is not supposed to eat/touch gets taken away.

When she knows she won't be allowed to do X if she tells the truth, I think she will be reluctant to tell the truth.

How can I prevent/deal with such situations?

P.S. No, junk food and TV will not be given as "rewards" at any cost.

6 Answers 6


I generally try to ignore the lie completely. Children have a slightly odd relationship with the truth, in that they still don't quite understand the barrier between fiction and reality.

My script is generally this:

Me: "Squiggles, why did you draw on the wall?" (Note: Never "did you", always "why did you")

Squigs: "I didn't."

Me: "Well then who did it?"

Squigs: "The naughty Disgust who lives in my head"

Me: "No, that's still a part of you, why did you do it?"

And continue from there; note that I haven't deviated from the original question in any way, and have at most absorbed and responded to what she said with the maximum amount of respect you can give to that pathetic attempt at deception, and then gone back to exactly where I was.

Occasionally I'll shorthand that acknowledgement to:

Me: "Squiggles, why did you draw on the wall?"

Squigs: "I didn't."

Me: "Mmmhmm. Why did you do it?"

The idea is not to encourage the lie as effective in any way, even as a distraction from the original misdemeanour.

Also, as the_lotus correctly points out, don't offer her options you don't want her to consider. Basically "did you draw on the wall?" is a trap. It suggests you're not sure, but the reality is it's either get in trouble, or get in extra trouble. "Why did you draw on the wall?" offers far less invitation to deceive.

If you genuinely want to know something, question that. But offering opportunities to lie is actually encouraging the child to give it a go. If I do want a confession rather than to accuse, I generally go with pointing at the evidence, and just saying "Explain."

Also, she gets a massive punishment reduction for a freely given confession, e.g. coming straight to me with a "I drew on the wall/had an accident/started a minor fire", rather than waiting and hoping my fatherly omniscience fails me for once. Basically, it goes from "ROOM. NOW." down to "We don't do that, help me clear it up."

  • How will I teach the child then that she should not lie at least to her parents? Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 7:59
  • @TheIndependentAquarius Because she gets reduced or no punishment when she comes to you with a "difficult truth". And because you've set a standard that lying is never an option, by not setting those kind of traps, and setting an environment where lies don't work. You're basically crafting an environment where lying is just not worth attempting, rather than one where they can try it, if they fancy the risk.
    – deworde
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 8:23
  • I do like this answer, but what do you do when you actually don't know if the child lied? Our situation is we have 2 kids (3 & 5). The 3 year don't really understand lying, but the 5 year old clearly experiments with it. He has sometimes used it in trying to blame stuff on his brother (I didn't know the culprit at first, but later it was clear). I try to explain to him why that is unacceptable, basically through some 'Peter and the Wolf' type explanation, but I am not sure that works. I like your approach here, and wonder if you can expand to situation where you are not sure?
    – Ida
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 23:45
  • 1
    @Ida In that case you're actually asking the question because you want to know. But the only reason to ask is because you want to know the answer. I might ask "Who drew on the wall?", because that makes it harder to lie (your boy has to come up with a alternate culprit), and yeah, if they tell you a direct lie under that circumstance, they get in trouble, if only because they've attempted to throw someone else under a bus in order to escape the consequence of their actions. But if they are honest, then I'd get them to help clear up and tell them off, but skip the punishment.
    – deworde
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 9:27

First off, don't treat truth telling as a special event, ie. something that deserves rewards beyond a simple "thank you for being honest". Telling the truth should be normal, expected behavior. If truth telling becomes something that is motivated by rewards, it will only last as long as the rewards do or as long as the rewards are sufficient motivators. (Just as an example, say the reward for telling the truth is a hug. Now your child has to weigh their desire to get a hug vs. the chance of not getting in trouble. Depending on what they were trying to get out of, they might forgo the hug because it might not be worth the trouble they would get in.)

Second, treat lying as it's own "crime". If punishment is involved for something (drawing on the wall), make it clear that there is a punishment for that and a punishment for lying. What the punishment for lying is depends on you and your child. For older children, the punishment might be something like doubling the punishment for what they were trying to cover up (ie. if they broke a rule they get grounded for a week, if they lie about it, now its a week for breaking the rule and a week for lying). For younger children who won't connect longer punishments back to the original lie, it may be something less dependent on the crime (ie. draw on the walls means you have to help clean it up, lie about it means you take a time-out then help clean up). This is something you will have to adapt to your child based on their age and abilities.

Third, encourage your children to tell the truth, both by talking to them and by your example. Telling your children that the truth is always better will help, but showing it will be even better. Own up to your own mistakes. Share stories of when telling the truth made things better for you. When they tell you the truth, acknowledge that and take it into consideration when they've done something wrong. They will learn just as much if not more from your actions as your words.

Just remember this isn't going to be something that will get solved overnight. You will have to reinforce this many, many times. Remind them that they will be in better shape for telling the truth. And make sure to show them.


The right course of action really depends on the child. Each child has a different way they learn. There's no hard and fast rule that you can apply, but one thing is for sure: don't let your kid get away with lying.

From my own personal experience, the fear of being punished for lying just led to me lying even more (even though I wasn't really punished that much for it). I learned to lie better and actually managed to get away with several lies. Punishing lies actually encourages more lying if the new lies told are better at deceiving. However, at some point in time, I got fed up with lying and changed my ways, talked to my parents. My parents were receiving and didn't immediately punish me. They were accepting and understood that the guilt that comes with deceiving is already punishment enough.

I would recommend trying the following, but be open to changing:

  1. If the child makes a mistake, but confesses, reward the fact that she was upfront and honest. Make it clear that that's what you are rewarding. The mistake needs to be fixed, but don't punish the child unnaturally. For instance, if the child wrote on the wall with crayons, you could have the child clean up (age dependent) with you "helping" (aka doing most of the work).
  2. If the child makes a mistake, and lies about it, but will confess after pressuring, don't exactly punish them. Explain why it is important to tell the truth, perhaps tell them what reward they could have had if they told the truth. Still have the child help fix the mistake, but make sure the child knows that you are accepting her and that you love her.
  3. If the child makes a mistake, and lies about it, and relentlessly lies about it, first make sure that she's actually lying. It could be that she really didn't do it. If not, I'm not sure what to say. Punishment would be justified.

Basically, while some children learn well with authoritarian parenting and punishments, I feel that it is often better to reward good behaviour rather than punish bad behaviour. Focus on what is good and what can be done better, rather than what is bad and what they're doing wrong. You want your child to come to you and talk; no matter what wrongs she's done, no matter how far she's gone, she should feel like she can come and talk to you.

It can be hard to come up with a reasonable reward. It makes sense to not want to reward your kids with candy or TV. There are many ideas out there for how to reward your child. You could use a point based system where after your child reaches so many points (could be represented by stickers or tokens of some sort), the child can choose some prize, such as a toy or something. But keep in mind that whatever you do, the child has to feel like something is happening. If it takes 100 times before she can get a toy, she's going to feel like she'll never make it. Make sure that whatever it is, it is not too minuscule as to make her ignore it.


Why ask if you knew it was her? At that age, their thought and speech isn't totally developed even if they look like it. Sometime they "lie" but what they are saying is "I wish I didn't". Your punishment might be wrong, try to look at "natural" punishment. In your example, if she drew on the wall, she should clean it up. "I see you drew on the wall, we draw on paper, you need to clean the wall". Having natural punishment will reduce the fear of lying, since it's more logical to the kid than having someone yell or being in timeout. And later, you'll see her fix her own mistake instead of running away from them.

Make sure you don't lie to her also. If family member don't lie, this is a big leverage to use.

Also, you'll have to get used to her hiding things from you as she age, it's a sad part of parenting :( But as long as she can fix her own problem, then she's going to do well.


Children will break things and break the rules from time to time.

We have a simple rule system in our family:

  1. Make a mistake and immediately confess (ideally with an apology):
    Reduced consequences - you get a "bonus" for honesty.
    For small children, we used this as an occasion to emphasize the importance of being honest and to again explain the rules and why we have them. Offer an alternative if you take something away.
  2. Hide / lie about a misdeed:
    Double "punishment" or scolding.
    Make very sure that the additional consequences are for being untruthful. For small children, repeat why being honest to you is so very important, older ones benefit from an occasional reminder.

There are good stories that can be used in explaining why you want them to be honest, Aesop's The Boy Who Cried Wolf being a classic.

Note that you should differentiate between outright lies and the phantasy stage that many children have between three and five - and around four many also start to discover the social aspect of lying. And this is part of our growing into the society. Do you really want your child to tell your mother in law what they truly think about her latest failed cake? Or would a polite "thank you, I'm full" be preferably in this case?

What you should always do is keep the communication with your child open. There will be way rougher patches than with a three year old decorating the walls. Value and practise honesty in both directions, don't lie to your child either. My children (older than yours) know that if they ask a straightforward question, they will get a straight answer. I am honest about uncomfortable things as well (sick pets, medical treatments) and admit my own mistakes, so they know they can trust me always.

Disclaimer: No method will guarantee 100% truthfulness.

  • 1
    I strongly recommend being careful with punishing double for a lie. For some kids, the punishment will instead encourage them to hide and lie and cheat even more; they may even get good enough not to get caught. And when one lies, there's already guilt; you don't need to double-layer it. It's a fine line, though. Punishment of some sort is necessary for most kids, yet for other kids, rewards work better. Just be careful.
    – Justin
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 6:13

First we need to know why children tell lie. Because of

  1. Loss: if they feel that you can take something from them like their toys, room or you can stop them from going outside, playing with other children, eating ice cream or any kind of loss they may face
  2. Pain: If you can beat them or scold very harshly
  3. Embarrassment: Scolding in front of their friends, non-family members, or in presence of younger brother-sister etc.

Remember that this is not only you who can afraid your child, sometimes they get afraid seeing other parents doing the same thing with their children.

Do they really deserve for the punishment?

Children are curious to try out new things. This is how they learn. You must have noticed babies chewing/licking things or kids rubbing crayons on the wall or furniture. These all are the ways, unconcious mind use to learn about unknowns. And when you try out something new, there is fair chance to commit mistakes.

Although they start it for learning purpose but since they don't know what is wrong in this, they keep doing this. And some times they start taking interest in doing this.

So the punishment depends on wheather this is their first attempt, are they doing it for learning purpose or just for fun etc. But before punishment explain them it's cosequences, like: if it is broken you'll not be able to play with this again.

Let's understand them first

  1. They are not good to understand in words. Better to show some motivating cartoon or rhyme or other child doing the same thing in better way. Again!!! don't ask them to be like others. Let them notice by themselves.
  2. They are not good in linking with past events. So explain them only when something happens.
  3. Colours, glittering materials, lights, or something which is not in their day to day life or they are not used to with, can fetch kids' attention. That's why they even ignore what parents say or do. For them, parents are just like a security guard.
  4. Children are greedy: if you take something from them, they'll not be happy and more concerned. If you give something, even useless, they'll be happy.
  5. They don't rely on you or your promises: Children are impatient to wait while you complete your promises. In early age they don't even understand what is promise. So if you tell them you are gonna let them watch rhymes once they finish food. They'll just ignore your words, and will start crying for rhymes.

Better ways of explaining

Fogging (Being agree)

Think twice before you punish them. There can be many alternative ways. Discuss with them and try to know the reason why they did it. Don't start with stating that they are wrong that's why you wanna discuss. Show your interest doing the same thing. And then introduce your ideas to do it in better way or explain them what problem you were facing in doing something.

Speak indirectly

Don't always say 'NO'. Be involved with them. Let them commit mistake. This is how they learn. Instead of teaching them, talk to your partner that what better could have done if you do it in other way. Let them listen you when you talk to your partner. Since kids learn from imitating other they will listen and understand you better when you don't tell them directly.

Change the topic (Red herring)

Babies don't understand your promises, like when you say I'll do it tomorrow. They can still be stubborn. But instead of scolding, move their attention to something else.

Other's help

If they know bad consequences of telling lie, which may happen later in the future, or benefit of telling truth, they can stop lying. You may take help of other friends or parents (not teacher, they seems boring) to explain them, but again not in words. You can weave a fake story with your friends to actually show them the consequences of telling lie.


I heard about rewards from many people. I even tried it. But my 2 years daughter doesn't understand it. And I feel, it can make a child greedy sometimes. I mean, children start bargaining in everything. But if it works in your case, go for that.

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