My 'honorary' niece is 5 years old. The other day I made a comment about how she was lucky to have a mommy who is always honest to her (referring to the fact that her mother was upfront and honest about things some parents are afraid to touch on, such as where babies come from, who her biological father was, or the truth about Santa Claus etc.). She responded to my statement about her mother never lying by asking "like you lie?", implying she thought I would lie to her.

This is the second time something like this has happened. In both cases it was a very honest sounding statement, I don't think she was trying to be mean or imply anything, she just honestly thought that I would lie to her. This upsets me precisely because I go out of my way to be very honest with her like her mom. I always give honest answers to important questions and never try to avoid answering them. I also try to never tell little white lies to her. In general I believe I'm far more honest with her than most adults would be as it's been a very intentional commitment to be upfront with her.

My only explanation for why she would think I would lie to her is because I will play games or make believe with her. For instance I'll pretend to have fallen asleep, so she can jokingly 'wake me up'. I may also do something like pretend to eat a piece of plastic food and jokingly insist it was yummy when she asks what I did with it, even though she knows I couldn't have eaten it and will find where I hid it (or I'll show her if she didn't). I'll make up games and jokes along these lines often, but I've always believed she was at the developmental level where she could clearly understand the difference between this sort of make believe playing/joking and serious situations where I would always tell the truth.

I've also occasionally given her some mini logic puzzles to challenge her, such as betting her I could walk on water and asking her if she knew how (by waiting for it to freeze). In these sort of situations I'm using some poetic license with the truth for the sake of challenging her (i. e., ice is technically a different state then water), but I haven't done that sort of thing often and I always explain what I meant to her if she couldn't figure it out. Again I wouldn't have thought she would consider that to be lying.

Why would she consider me capable of lying to her when I go out of my way to be extra honest with her? If my games are confusing her how do I help her to understand the difference between make believe games and joking and serious answers so she knows when I'm being honest?

I have told her that sometimes I exaggerate when were playing, but that I'd never lie to her in reality. I've also always told her that if I promise something is true then it is, that I'll never joke about a promise. Is there anything else I can do?

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    Have you asked her if she remembers you lying to her? Don't put too much significance into the words. Children that young barely understand the concept of lying, let alone its shades of meaning. I doubt that phrase means the same to her as it does to you. We can't possibly know why she said what she said; only she knows that. Just ask her. Aug 29, 2019 at 17:00

2 Answers 2


This may be way off the mark, but I often find that it's very difficult to have a neutral discussion without unintentionally prodding them in one direction or another.

If I were to read your nieces behavior purely as a mirror of what you're saying to her, I see the following things happening:

You say she's lucky to have an honest mom. In parsing that, trying to make sense of your comment, your niece may well think "as opposed to what"? Perhaps there's nothing more to that question. Perhaps she had not yet pondered that that was a quality which people could be to different extents.

So she asks you, but your response doesn't seem to have been "No I'm also always honest, but not all people are, so you're lucky." Instead, you're telling us you've explained how you sometimes exaggerate but would never really lie. And you come up with jokes, games and logic puzzles as creative examples of how to divert from or skew reality. To a five year old, I'm reckon that's far less reassuring than a simple assertion.

I wasn't there, but I'm thinking she would've probably been content with a "no".

The train of thought behind something that comes out of a five year old isn't always that long (although you've probably also seen amazing examples to the contrary). Interpreting them the way you would if an adult had said the same thing will often lead you wrong. Sometimes, it's healthy not to read too much between the line, and oftentimes, don't assume that they will be able to. When she asks if you're lying, and you respond "I only exaggerate/playact", don't assume she hears that as a negative response to her question.


I was listening to an audiobook and it said that children don't develop logic until around 6 years old. She may not be using the term lying properly, or heard it from someone else. I wouldn't take it to heart, instead try asking her what she means. Whether she thinks you lie in a good or bad way. Try asking her questions about it in a way she can understand or relate.

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