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My ten-year-old stepdaughter has recently developed a habit of telling bold-faced lies to avoid getting in trouble/having to do something she does not want to. How do we respond to this?

Some background

The child’s parents have been separated since she was three, and for the past five years she has primarily lived with parent A and myself. She is supposed to see parent B on alternating weekends and twice during the week. B often cancels these scheduled placement times with just a few hours’ notice. Recently this has started to greatly upset the child (previously she acted indifferent or just a little disappointed). The child has always had some behavior problems, primarily ignoring people when they talk to her, arguing when asked to do something, and not following directions. She has been screened for hearing problems and her hearing is normal. She has also been screened for learning disabilities and ADHD and at that time (two years ago) she did not meet the criteria for those conditions.

The current situation

In the last few weeks, my stepdaughter has started telling lies to avoid getting in trouble, and she doubles-down on the lies even when confronted with evidence to the contrary.

The lies can be very small, for example saying that she brushed her teeth, to pretty substantial, for example saying that she did not get in trouble at school even after we received an email from her teacher explaining how she misbehaved and what the consequences were.

The part that is very concerning is that she digs in and doubles down on the lie when confronted with evidence that her lie is not true. She truly seems to believe that her lie is reality. Example:

Parent: You need to brush your teeth.

Child: I already brushed my teeth.

Parent: You did not brush your teeth. I watched you walk into the bathroom, play at the sink, and walk back out without brushing.

Child: I did brush my teeth!

Parent: I am telling you to brush your teeth now.

Child: (crying and/or yelling) I told you I already brushed my teeth!

She has also started yelling and crying when she is doubling-down on the lie. In the past she would usually accept that she had been caught in a lie and accept the consequences/do what she was asked to do. She was not one to easily cry.

We have received reports from her teachers at school confirming that the same behavior occurs there.

The next steps we will take are meeting with her teachers and school counselor, and we have made an appointment for her to meet with a counselor outside of school. Parent B is kept informed of the events occurring and is encouraged to participate in the process but so far has chosen minimal to no involvement.

As an aside, I strongly suspect that something happening when the child is with Parent B is fueling this, and/or Parent B’s lack of interest and involvement in the child’s life is fueling this behavior, but that is not something Parent A or I have the power to change.

My Question

Until we can meet with the counselors and get more information about what the underlying problem is and how to address it, how do we respond when she is doubling-down on her lies? We are left feeling like sputtering idiots when she is denying things that we saw happen with our own eyes, and questioning our own grip on reality. And we are not sure how to respond when she tells us something that seems implausible but which we can't prove or disprove.

For the big lies she has told about her behavior at school, she lost TV/electronics for one week, and after the latest set of lies a few days ago she was grounded from those things indefinitely. When she raises her voice or starts crying as in the example above, she is sent to her room and told we do not talk to each other that way. Is there a better way to deal with this? Is it important to get her to admit that she is lying, or should we just stop engaging with the lie and move directly to issuing consequences?

In the last few days it has become unpleasant to spend time with her or engage in conversation because it might devolve into an argument about the nature of reality. Even small things could trigger an argument. Our patience is worn so thin and we have no idea how to address this. If she was an adult I would say she is gaslighting us.

This question is very similar in nature, but the answer doesn't seem likely to help and doesn't address some of my other concerns.

  • you might take a look at this question (and the link in the first answer), it might help: parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/22227/… – adeady Nov 6 '18 at 19:48
  • To the lie with the problems at school. Maybe your step daughter didn't know about the things she actually did. I for myself often don't realize that I did something wrong and it may be that she didn't realize it too and the school just sent you the letter without talking to your step daughter – Féileacán Nov 12 '18 at 9:57
  • "The part that is very concerning is that she digs in and doubles down on the lie when confronted with evidence that her lie is not true. She truly seems to believe that her lie is reality." She should consider running for US presidency. – Evargalo Nov 22 '18 at 16:37
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This is a toughie and I feel for you. You sound like you are doing a yeoman's job in an impossible situation. I am not in your situation, but all I know is that I have had situations with my children ( one in particular) in which I have tried to insist that she talk to me and that resulted in her giving me the silent treatment for days. This was a common occurence for a number of months. It was scary, but she knew she was in control. By not forcing her to tell you the truth and just ignoring much of the behavior (as much as possible) , it will totally diffuse the situation. Try to catch her doing something good and positive and be able to agree with her on anything at all. That will let down her guard. She is having a very hard time and all you can do is be her ally and stable parent figure. So if she lies about the toothbrushing, ignore it for a couple of days. Don't be down her back constantly. She will never do as you say if you are always criticizing and telling her what to do. Be interested in her life and help her when she asks for help. Truthfully , if she does not brush her teeth for a few days, she will hear about it from peers or siblings soon enough. Let her experience the consequences of her own actions. She sounds like she needs a lot more positive interactions from you right now!

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I think it's vital that you stop the "I did", "You didn't" argument(s). It's pointless. I don't think she believes her own lies, but I suspect that she's feeling a little insecure about her relationship with "parent B" and, given her age, is unable to understand those emotions. Since disciplining her doesn't seem to be working, try ignoring as many of the lies as you can. It's not going to be easy... in time, she will stop telling lies to get your attention. Sure, there's a line she shouldn't cross, but I kind of think she might have already crossed it. So, my suggestion is to get her back on the other side of it. This isn't a quick fix. Give her more attention for good things and less attention for bad things.

If she consistently avoids brushing her teeth, make a stop at her Dentist's office and pick up some of those pink pills they use to see if the kids brush well enough. Give her one of those, then send her off to get ready for bed. If you feel like you need to explain it, just tell her that you think she's old enough to get ready without anyone watching over her... the answer will be obvious when she comes down to say she's ready. (right?) If her teeth are pink, try your hardest to ignore it. Someone will be bound to notice the next day (hopefully her!).

Every day (after school) ask her specifically about her day. Does she need help with homework? What was the best part of the day? What was the worst part of the day? If you find out she's having problems at school (again), print the email out and bring it up if she doesn't open up about it when you talk to her about her school day. Again, the goal is to not fight or argue, but talk. If she insists on lying, telling her "I don't believe you", or "I don't like it when you lie to me", will give her plenty to contemplate. Tone down the punishment to, perhaps, sending her to bed early. [Note: Sending her to bed early actually means that she has to be in bed. Very different from sending her to her room where she can play with toys.] The next morning just give her a hug and send her off to school.

Being angry at a parent who isn't giving you attention is a lot different that disappointing a parent who is there for you. She'll come around.

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This is age called the growing age .In this age childern tought that they are grown up and can easily make thier own desicions and thier surrondings literally leave impact on them so when parent are seprated its gives harmful impact on them they also thought that they can also live indepedently like their parents live and relay on telling alie so u should make them confident that they are not alone and thier parent love them alot even after sepration and they can easily told them confidently without telling alie.

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    The child’s parents split up seven years ago. The asker has been in a parental position for five years. I don’t think the separation per se is an issue. I think there’s something different going on. – Stephie Nov 11 '18 at 15:02

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