Kids and Lying: How Do You Know Who’s Telling the Truth?

Posted July 8, 2010 by

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All children lie. There is a lying continuum and I think that some lying is a normal part of childhood. My 13-year-old son lies a tad more than your average child, but I believe he is still within that typical range. “Did you brush your teeth?” “Yes” “OK, should I check your toothbrush?” “Well, I was going to brush them.” Or, “I was up until 2 am last night!” “Really, when I checked on you at 10 you were asleep.” “Well, I woke up at like 11 for a bit.” So that is what I call normal childhood lying. I am not saying it is OK and he gets busted under interrogation, but it is not extreme.

My 10-year-old stepson is an extreme liar. He gets better at it every day and it is getting harder and harder to bust him each time. He refuses to crack. He came to live with us a year ago because his mother was unable to manage his behaviors. He was stealing things from family members, and lying when confronted. Obviously getting to the bottom of these behaviors has been a priority for us, and material for another blog, another day, but with the help of a therapist we have been working on consequences for him.

The sad thing is, any time something goes missing, he is the first on the suspect list. After years and years of this, 99% of the time, the missing item turns up in his room. The bad thing about this is that we live in a house full of ADHD children and they misplace things frequently. My 19-year-old recently lost his wallet. We tore the house apart. We really did not want to jump to the conclusion that our resident thief struck again. We looked everywhere we could think of. It was a good hour into the search when we accidentally found the TV remote that had mysteriously disappeared. Somebody had hidden it inside an old purse left in the livingroom. We suspected the usual person because although he was currently on punishment in his room, he offered repeatedly to help us search. My thought was that he wanted to find it, be the hero, and be released from his punishment, a regular occurrence at his mom’s house. Meanwhile, the evening progressed and we finally gave in and searched his room for the wallet. He was asleep by now so we used flashlights to look under the bed and in drawers. We woke him up to ask him. To hear my husband tell it, you’d think we had flashlights in his face. He denied taking it. The wallet was eventually found in a closet. The cat batted it under a closet door. So, he was, in fact innocent, and we tried to use this as a learning experience for him, to show him how his past actions have impacted all future disappearances.

Fast forward 2 weeks. The 13-year-old comes home from school and calls me at work to tell me he found his game boy under the 10-year-old’s bed. He said he noticed it was missing and looked in all of the usual hiding spots. When we asked said-suspect to go get the missing item, he looked perplexed, furrowing his brow. When the gameboy did not reappear, he said he did not even know what item was in question. He was getting good at this! He did not crack, even as he found the gameboy under his bed and brought it to us, with his brow furrowed even deeper, claiming dumbfoundedness. “I do not know how this got under my bed! Unless I sleepwalked, which I am darn sure I don’t do!” He is always “darn sure” of everything, until we prove we are darn sure otherwise.

After further questioning, and walking through everyone’s steps on the morning in question, he still maintained his innocence. We discovered that there was not any time at all in the morning before the 13-year-old went to school that he could have sneaked into the 10-year-old’s room undetected to hide it under the bed. Our suspect repeated, “I know he did not put it under my bed and I KNOW I didn’t take it!” Really? There were no other people in the house that day except for my husband and I, and we are darn sure we did not hide it under his bed! He did not throw his step-brother under the bus by saying he did it, yet claims he did not do it himself. “When I hide things, it is under the head of the bed, not the middle!” So, unless it was hidden under there after the 13-year-old came home from school and before we all got home, which we had to at least consider as a slight possibility, there is no other way it could have gotten there. This child has never framed the little one before so we highly doubt this is what happened.

In the end, we did not have enough evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that our suspect was guilty, so we were forced to “drop the charges.” We did tell both boys that we had a good idea who did it, and that said person should thank his lucky stars because we were sure he would not get away with it a second time. But are we really sure? What if this little boy has honed his lying skills and poker face? We have spent the past year providing consistent consequences, yet I am afraid that as we found items each and every time, he learned better what NOT to do, or figured out how we found out and is working harder to hide evidence.

What would you do in the same situation?


I am a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 22, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. I have remarried and my husband has 2 boys, ages 13 and 16. The 13 year old lives with us, and has some behavioral problems and attachment issues. There is always something happening at our house!

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  1. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor (Edit) Report

    To ‘Momofmany’: It sounds like you are pretty frustrated with your stepson’s behavior. Lying and stealing are two of the most challenging behaviors for parents to deal with because both can lead you to feel betrayed and violated, which are really hurtful emotions. It’s important that consequences alone are not enough to change behavior. James Lehman states that children act out because they have a problem they don’t know how to solve effectively. It’s going to be helpful to shift your focus away from finding the “right” consequence to talking about the lying and stealing. Problem solving with him will allow you to teach him new skills that he will need in order to make better decisions. You basically want to ask him what he was thinking when he lied or stole and talk about what he can do differently next time instead. I am including a few articles that will give you some more information and ideas. On a final note, it sounds like you’ve discovered that spanking didn’t work, and that’s because once the spanking has been done your stepson still doesn’t know what more appropriate behavior he can do instead of stealing. We would recommend sticking to a short removal of a privilege as a consequence moving forward. Good luck to you and your family as you work through this.
    The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: “I Can’t Solve Problems”
    Kids Stealing from Parents: What You Need to Know Now
    Why Kids Tell Lies And What To Do About It

  2. Momofmany (Edit) Report

    I have soon to be 10 year old stepson who steals only from me. It is driving me crazy. He will steal and lie everyday. We have grounded him, took things away and even spanked him once. Nothing seems to work. He will get up in the early morning hours and wake the smaller ones up and then run to his room and wait. He climbs the cabinets to get to food he is not suppose to have. He is ADHD and tries to use that as an excuse. This child has had a hard life being abandoned by his mom and I try to take all that into consideration however lying and stealing will not be tolerated. Any ideas

  3. 4kidsandacat (Edit) Report

    I was dealing with this issue with my 9 year old son. He only seemed to steal one type of item though. I tried everything I could think of: removing treats, removing privileges, discussion, putting the treats up, but nothing helped. We took his Easter loot the day after Easter because he was caught stealing, but this did not curb his behavior, he simply started stealing from his sisters. He even stole the sugar-free candy that I bought for his father, who is on a no-sugar diet. He ended up having two of his baby teeth pulled because he had severe cavities that could not be filled! Even this did not curb his behavior. After months of checking his room for candy wrappers, his father finally took almost all of the candy to work and gave it to his coworkers. He has three sisters who do not engage in this behavior, so I took their candy and put it in my closet where he doesn’t have access and I dole it out when I feel they have earned it. He very rarely gets treats anymore. I suspect this was not done to gain attention but instead was a compulsion/addiction to sugar. He really does not steal anything else. We have had discussions about his lying and I whenever I suspect that he is not being truthful I explain to him that my suspecting him stems from his past behavior and that he needs to earn my trust back by being more truthful. He still lies, but he has become better at admitting the truth and taking responsibility for his behavior because he doesn’t like being the suspect all the time.

    The situations that some of you all describe do sound more like cries for attention, since they are not limited to one type of item and they don’t seem to have a real issue with getting caught. Also, a lot of the situations that you all describe involve stepchildren and as someone mentioned earlier, this may stem from the divorce. From reading all of the above posts I am grateful that my son is learning this lesson early, so that he will already know the lesson when he enters his teenage years. And we have learned the lesson too. We know that what works with him is appealing to his sense of fairness and rational thinking.

  4. Carole Banks (Edit) Report

    This lively discussion indicates how something as simple as a lie can also be so complicated. James Lehman weighs in on this topic too, and he talks about some of the contradictions that come up when deciding what to do about lying. He states it’s important to take a balanced approach toward this behavior—avoid extreme feelings and reactions or no reaction at all.

    James wrote an article about lying that appeared on Empowering Parents in 2008—Why Kids Tell Lies And What To Do About It, at In this article he writes, “Parents should hold their kids responsible for lying. . . . But when you look at your kid like he’s a sneak and an operator who’s undermining your authority, it’s a slippery slope that starts with ‘You lie’ and ends up at ‘You’re a bad person.’ I think that perception of your kid promotes more lying.”

    James recognizes that all kids lie and that many times we adults do too. He says that kids lie to solve a problem and need to learn better problem solving skills. “I think that parents have to assume that kids are going to tell them lies, because they’re immature and they don’t understand how hurtful these things are. Parents should not get into the morality of it. Just be clear. Lying is wrong, it’s hurtful and, in our home, we tell the truth. But don’t make it a moral issue. Make it a technical issue. You broke the law. You broke the rules. These are your consequences.”

    He recommends having a separate consequence for lying and another consequence for the behavior your child lied about, if that’s appropriate for the situation. Choose a standard, simple consequence for lying, such as, “You lose your cell phone for twenty-four hours for choosing to lie.”

  5. stuart (Edit) Report

    There is a saying — any man who says he is not a liar, IS a liar! I think that is the truth.

    I had, throughout my life, graduated from a childhood liar whose focus was fear of punishment, to an adult who became adept at lying about my emotions, also out of fear of punishment.

    Growing up, I was told to tell the truth and to not lie, but no one ever told me to love the truth! That is a very different pursuit — one that entails the adults becoming contrite and apologetic to little children for not promoting an atmosphere where the truth is safe to express.

    I have put this into practice with my own daughter, and I am gaining her trust. I was mis-characterizing her and projecting personifications upon her that caused her to mistrust me. Lying became her coping mechanism.

    I invite you to consider if you have been totally honest with yourself in your relationship with your lying child. Chances are, you may find that there is room for contrition and some apologies and also fostering an atmosphere that promotes authenticity at the heart level!


  6. rnskyblue22 (Edit) Report

    Well, I have to say I’m glad I’m not the only one struggling with these issues! I have a 4 year old and 6 year old that I am trying to teach the value of being truthful. I am currently talking to them about what and why we have boundaries, rules, and respect for ourselves and each other. We also talk alot about feelings and validate them good or bad but talk about making a decision of what to do about them. I let my children know that whether they have done good or bad things, there is always a consequence and that may be a negative one if they decide to do bad. Its alot to learn for such young ages, but surprisingly it is helping, they are trying to do the “right” things and learning to talk about their feelings when they feel hurt, sad, angry, or scared or frustrated.

  7. blackbelt fam (Edit) Report

    All kids do lie and we need to see that the lie is the beginning of telling the truth. The lie is told because the child has learned what they are telling a lie about is wrong and they don’t want to be in the wrong in your eyes.

    Every time a mistake is made is an opportunity to teach!!

    It’s a good thing to teach the right things to do when faced with the realization you did something wrong. It is time to teach a problem solving technique that works better than a lie.

    Keep stating the positive and that you like the good things they do and don’t like the bad or wrong things or give excessive attention to them.

  8. Nightaura (Edit) Report

    I don’t ask questions of liars. I act as though what I suspect is true. Hand washing: “I did not hear the water run in the sink. Go wash your hands with soap.” Things disappearing and being discovered in liar/thief’s room “This was found in your possession. Your consequences will be …” That said, I also try to give thieves an “out”. They can leave a taken item on the table and if the item is returned in the same condition as it was taken, there are no consequences. We just discuss what happened to take the item. I also give an opportunity to “Change the story.” Good luck.

  9. Lisa (Edit) Report

    jsee, you read my thoughts! Your response was right on! Moreover, children thrive and feel safe in a routine, consistency and know what to expect. Divorce, moving, being thrust into unfamiliar situations, etc. disrupts that security and leaves them with a sense of uncertainty and lack of control. Divorce especially, will take away a child’s security and sense of ‘control’. The result is acting out in any way they can think to gain control, attention or security. These actions need to be addressed at the root, not the fruit. Spending more QUALITY time with them, TALK WITH them (not at them), complimenting, letting them make some of the decisions (what to have for dinner, what movie to watch, etc.) will give them a sense of value and belonging. Most resident ‘thieves’ and ‘liars’ are trying to fill a void. To ‘reclaim’ what they may have ‘lost’ in a divorce, in a move, etc. You need to ‘restabilize’ their environment and make sure they understand what’s expected of them and also understand the consequences of their actions. BUT, put more emphasis on doing it out of love, rather than punishment. Even after consequences are given, the child needs to be reassured that they were disciplined because they were loved, not because they were ‘bad’. And ALWAYS remember that there are no bad kids, just lost or confused kids that make bad choices. Patience, love and understanding will get you through it, but most importantly, PRAYER! Ask for wisdom, skill and counsel to raise your children in a way that is pleasing to God. I AM A LIVING TESTIMONY THAT IT WORKS!

  10. Sweet7 (Edit) Report

    Hi, some stories here make me smile a bit and to my opinion, some of you are over reacting. I have a 11 yrs old step daughter who lied a lot before she moved with us 1 yr ago and she is good at it. I have a 10 yrs old son who lies sometimes but he is not good at it.
    I strongly believe that lying about not washing their hands is normal. Did’nt you do it when you were a kid? who did not?? With that said, I have 2 different strategy for both kids.
    My son loves money and he is very good at managing it. So we had a major problem when he was going to the restroom ( a little like washing hands) he was not pulling the lid off to pee. So when I was going, there was ALWAYS pee on the lid. When I was telling him what he didi and to come clean it up, he was always saying it was his dad. after 2 weeks of “come back and clean your mess” which did not stop I thought, I have to be smarter than him. I’ve put 2 glass jars, 1 with $5 in quarters (his weekly allowance)1 with a tape written MOM on it. So I told him: Each time mommy cleans the lids, I take 1 quarter and I put it in my jar. At the end of the week you get what is left in you jar.
    It was the end of it. I left the jars there for 1 month and I think I took a quarter once out. That was very powerful.
    it would work too with my step-daughter but she lies a lot more for anything so it is more difficult to pinpoint.
    Since I know that with her mother she was very often accused even thought she was not responsible cause she has younger siblings. So what I still do today, after 1 year is telling her: “Listen, I know you did it or took it. Go get it. I really hate being lied to and I will think of a way to make it stop” and then I leave the room, so she does not get more of my attention.
    The lying is getting less and less every week, cause she does not get any attention from it.
    Even 2 weeks ago, her teacher was asking them all who brought a school book, an encyclopedia outside and forgot it under the rain, she tought about it for like 10 minutes and she’s let the teacher talk and then she raised her hand and said that it was her. Victory!!
    The teacher was so impressed that he said: well, just remember, you guys are not allowed to bring the school books outside and thanks for telling me it was you.
    On my side I gave 2 more dollars on her allowance for telling the truth. Her eyes were sparkling. And so she learned that she was getting more attention telling the truth!
    By the way if I was a kid and my parents would wake me up late at night to interrogate me, I would make sure to do it again. Cause this is fun and he gets a lot of attention for doing it.
    Good luck!

  11. scaredmom (Edit) Report

    Wow. I’ve been dealing with this for years. My ADHD adopted son is turning 13 soon. Thanks for all the different ideas on here, because if you don’t deal with this lying/stealing type of child, you have NO IDEA how distressing it is. My son has become a master lier/stealer–my story sounds like other moms’ stories on here, so I won’t repeat it all. Unfortunately, now when he lies and he’s caught, he gets angry and violent. It’s scary. He’s also seeing a therapist now. We’ve talked about admitting him to a facility, we’ve talked about nanny cams, we lock some rooms. It’s like living in a prison in my own home. He borrows friends’ stuff and hides it from us until we find it. He has not stolen friends’ things (that I know of) so I’m grateful for that small amount of sanity in our lives. I try and try and cry and cry about the right thing to do to get him to see what he is doing–we have lots of disucssions about breaking our trust and that he has to earn it back. He hates that idea-he thinks the past is the past and why bring it up again and does not want to be held accountable for his actions. He sometimes asks for forgiveness when he’s all done, but then he thinks that if I forgive him for what he’s done, he doesn’t get any consequence. He’s told us to our face that it’s “too hard to be good” and he’d rather “take the chance of getting caught” and enduring the consequence than just doing the right thing. How do you get through to a kid like this?? We are a Christian family and it’s very distressing to have a child not respond to any kind of moral issues and understanding of the depth of his deception. I know there are other parents out there dealing with this, but it is so good to know that I’m not the only insane parent trying to figure it out. Thanks to all of you! We need a support group!

  12. Stacy (Edit) Report

    bds is right, don’t ask why. That is a waste of time
    and energy and the child usually says he doesn’t know
    why, which is probably true. I think people who don’t
    have these problems with their children tend to think
    these are poor parenting problems. But we are dealing
    with real brain disorders and if your child has ADHD,
    chances are he has another disorder or learning
    disabilities or psychological problems too. To Sindarla
    I would research the possibility that your child may
    also be ODD. If so, you will need to parent her
    differently so she doesn’t escalate into screaming and
    tantrums. To Anita – absolutely get professional help.
    Find someone who can connect with your daughter in
    therapy sessions. Kathy and firestone777 make some
    real life solutions that may work for some of these kids
    If they don’t work at this time, write them down, you
    might use them down the road. These problems take
    time to correct. Parents, take care of yourselves too.
    Study and learn about your child’s disorder so you can
    be a better parent and help others who have to deal with
    your child too. Above all, speak good things over your
    child, remind yourself each and everyday of their good
    qualities. Tell them you value them, encourage them.
    We don’t know what it is like to live with their
    disorder, maybe they are doing the best they can and
    have picked up coping skills to help them through
    this life. Unfortunately, lying can be a coping skill.
    It’s up to you to show the child that it is not a good
    coping skill.

  13. bds (Edit) Report

    WOW! You hit a nerve. Lots of parents have the same problem. Children want to know how this works and you are the best teachers. it’s hard work.

    Seems there’s a little game going on in your house – Can You Catch Me? The Bother Brother angle spices it up. Everybody is totally into it, playing their part. Who is really in control? It’s like throwing the cup from the highchair to the floor – an older child version with higher stakes consequences. Don’t pick up the cup. Extinguish the behavior.

    Don’t keep asking why did you do it? You already know – same as last time. He did it to test his strength, not at stealing and lying but at engaging all of you in his game. Don’t explain every time that it is wrong and/or you don’t like it. He already knows. Take things back. Put things back and shut him out for a limited time. You get the opposite of what you want – no one talks to you for the next five minutes. It’s a time out, so be careful. It’s tempting to overdo it. Use a variable schedule – that is, not the same amount of time for each offense. Remember . He is using a variable schedule. Sometimes ignore it. He’ll start fishing around to figure out the rules to the new game. The rules are the same. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. He might increase his negative behavior for a while to try to get control back. Ride it out – like the baby crying to be picked up. If you respond (go back to your old behavior), he goes back to his old behavior but stronger.

  14. jsee (Edit) Report

    I am a mother of four children and have had very little trouble with lying. I read your story and my heart ached for your stepson. What I do have is experience with a neice of divorced parents who had to be shipped off for a year (at 14) to get the help that she needed in order to function in her family. I do not suggest that I am any kind of an expert but I heard something this week that I think might be helpful. I was at a church meeting the other day when someone was teaching about a scripture where there was a distinction made between a trial, a trouble, and an affliction. These words previously thought to be interchangeable were used separately in this instance. The teacher had put great thought into “why” there was this distinction. He realized that trials are things given to us by God that help us learn, troubles are those things that we cause ourselves and afflictions are those things that are brought on by others. (He metioned the divorce of his parents as being a great affliction) Of the three,an affliction is, by far, the hardest to deal with because we suffer due to the choices of others. Yes, you may be thinking that you are suffering because of your stepson’s choices but the truth is that he is the one that is suffering because of the choices that his parents made to get divorced. In my mind, he in angry and the only way he knows to comfort himself is to take things that he thinks are going to make him happy. Of course, happy is relative because the happiness is very short lived and in the end he is causing himself a lot of “trouble”. Right now he is only 10 so that is what is in his power to do. In a few years, it might be drugs. I think that someone just needs to sit with him and point out that although his parents are divorced and that his family will never be the same again, he is still loved (probably not feeling it right now). He needs to know that he matters and that he did not cause the divorce because most kids think that.

    I don’t think the answer is in the detective work at all. He feels powerless and now everyone loves to find him “guilty”. Everyone else has more power than he does because when they say he did it and catch him, they feel empowered that they caught the thief and they get to be right. Well hey, as long as you were already feeling guilty about the divorce, you might as well feel guilty about something tangible like stealing and lying. Maybe he thinks he deserves to be punished. He just needs some serious loving and a really good cry about his life. We just need to see things from their perspective and understand the motivation. His mom didn’t want him, now he is just testing to see if dad doesn’t want him either. From that perspective, you just have one really sad 10 year old boy that feels really worthless. The more you blame him, the more he gets to be right about what he believes.

    The good news is that we can overcome trials, troubles and afflictions, depending on what we do with them. God can use them to bless our lives and we can overcome them all.

  15. Sindarla (Edit) Report

    The end of cab1’s comment, that the psychiatrist said that basically this kind of behavior leads to them feeling in control & it stems from the ADHD hit close to home. My daughter, who will be 9 in 2 days & has ADHD Does lie, she Didn’t hide her pajamas or put ice & soap & water in a cup, etc.when there’s nobody else to do it. But there’s Other behaviors which are Worse that have Recently increased (less than a week), telling me what to do, screaming, throwing things, having tantrums, etc. which I think she’s doing to try to gain some control in her life. She’s on the lowest does of Adderall which worked Very well in school & I Thought it would work to control these behaviors but it hasn’t been & she’s been driving me crazy to the point of tears Even! I know it’s not good to react the way I have but it’s Just Sooo hard for me not to.

  16. Dalane (Edit) Report

    Honestly, I really don’t have a big problem with this with my kids. I can tell you I have stressed honesty since they were very small and teaching them that if they do something wrong – whatever it is, that is one punishment. If they lie about it, their punishment goes up by such a vast amount that I guess it was never worth it to them. I hae on every occasion that I could NOT punished them AT ALL if they told the truth about it to teach them how much I valued honesty. I expalined to them going back to the lesson about the litle boy who cried wolf to teach them that the problem with lying is that when you tell the truth nobody believes you if you haven’t been honest in the past. They learn to value your trust, but they have to earn it!

  17. mindyourownbizness (Edit) Report

    Sameboatmom; – i can remember doing the same thing – the reason i have is this: i got a lot of attention from teachers when i did those things – much more than the negative attention i got at home – i was the third of four children and quite neglected in my own mind – if someone, and someone did, would have payed attention to me in a positive manner, my grandmother did, took me to music lessons, focused on my good qualities and i changed my entire life from a lonely little waif to a quite confident jr. high schooler (which is propably exactly when i needed it the most & thank God & my grandmother i got it) – therefore my answer is this: give that child the attention they need by focusing in on their positive attributes & watch them grow into a fine individual YOU can do this the best it can be done.

  18. mindyourownbizness (Edit) Report

    I stopped reading @ stacy @ 1:35PM but hopefully I will be able to get back to read the remainder of comments later.

  19. firestone777 (Edit) Report

    This is what I have done in my own home. I have a system that works like a dart board. There are seven circles on the board. Each one represents something. Start with the center one. After all your child wants the center of attention. In this your child has to be touching you at all times. Dishes, laundry what ever. I enjoy the one on one with them. Cirlce 2 is not touching but has to be right beside me within arms leangth. They are still with me learning responsibility. Cirlce 3 is having to be in the same room with me. When I see they can make better decisions then they can move to circle 4. That is a different room but where I can see them. Cirlce 5 is a differnt room and I do not have to see them. Cirlce 6 is they can be outside but in their own yard. Circle 7 is going outside the yard but not to a friends house. Any time they can not follow thru in the circle they go back to the previous circle. This has taken days even a week for them to earn circle seven.Or sometimes it has taken a few hours. This teaches the kids that they must be able to make safe, healthy decisions for themselves to be trusted outside your direct supervision. It also teaches them that they have to earn the freedom before they can have it. I like to think of it as a time for us to get aquainted, personal one on one time. You may think it a hassle or extreme. You may say you don’t have time for this. Well it is not a hassle when it comes to kids. I love the time we have together and the basic skills they learn when with me. Cooking, laundry, dishes plus the great conversations. I do not think it extreme as I have little time to teach my kids what life is like and the world is going to teach them that every thing goes. If it feels good do it.
    I also have treated the suspect as the guilty party and followed thru with the consequences weather they admit it or not. If I find out that some one else did it then that person has consequences. If I am wrong about it then I will go back and apologize Our reputation follows us no matter what even if it is old.

  20. LGB (Edit) Report

    I work with my 13 yr old on honesty and full disclosure as he will lie to get out of homework and simple chores – and it really strikes a nerve. Anyone dealing with some of the situations I read above, keep dealing and don’t let up. My 24 yr old step daughter is now in legal trouble due to what is now diagnosed “Borderline Personality Disorder”. I was the person that initially picked up on all the lying and stealing when she was 16 yrs old and moved in with us…her parents had excuses, didn’t believe it, called it borrowing, blamed it on the remarriage etc. by the time she went to college, she stole from 6 room mates, employers etc. Last year when she broke into our home, vandalized it, stole a car and money while we were on vacation, her father finally realized her behaviors had escalated, were a pattern and not individual “bad choices” and tried to get her into therapy (again). Unfortunately, had this been dealt with when she was under our roof and we paid her bills, we could have done more and required she stay in therapy. At this point, she doesn’t see the problem, she is “independent” and on her own, her mother just shrugs her shoulders and we don’t have contact with her. What a sad thing for everyone involved, as she had nice qualities too. But through every event, has always maintained her innocense, never come clean and never apologized. Remorse was never seen. So keep on working on the problem and nip it in the bud while you can!

  21. Kathy (Edit) Report

    We have started thinking out of the box. First of all we took all of the victims aside one by one and explained that stealing or vandalizing things was wrong and should never happen! While we did our best to listen more than talk, each victim immediately honed in on the person we thought was causing the problem but we had not said was the problem. Then we each agreed to – if at all possible – not draw attention to what ever was stolen or destroyed next. We even came up with warning signals to help each of us remember not to react.
    In the time we would have spent doing detective work or being disciplinarians we talked about correct principles such as kindness, sharing, honesty, etc just for no reason. And we also tried to increase the positive attention we gave each child.
    Within a week the guilty party was coming to us and asking us if we had seen the vandalism or if we knew this or that was missing. Talking to the guilty party during those times about how he and others felt when these things happened seemed to go a lot farther towards getting where we wanted to go than accusations did.
    We learned a lot from turning the tables that have helped how we as parents handle things and how we as individuals react when bad things happen to us. In other words – we found out that we were part of the problem- maybe even a driving force! We are still working at it but it is much easier than playing the hurt victim/detective roles.

  22. Barbara (Edit) Report

    I do not have a solution for any of this, but our daughter has always been an expert at lying. We tried all of the above suggestions – and more. She is now in her thirties and has become a master of lying and manipulation. As an adult she has been in treatment, but she changes therapists and doctors until she finds one that tells here that others all need to do what she wants when she wants – and they are out there!! The reason I am sharing this is so that as a parent you do everything you can while they ar in your home, but ALWAYS remember – all you can do is teach and instruct…they will make their own decisions you cannot change it. I’ve finally come to the realization that this is a life style she has chosen and we cannot change her – only she can do that.

  23. 1eyedjay (Edit) Report

    Our 10 yr old son has been a master of all things stated above. He started when he was 4 and we battled it till about 9 months ago. We realized that we were giving him all this attention every day and it was not positive, not encouraging, not helping him at all. The consequences of all kinds never worked and he did not care what we would reward him with or what we would take away. So we deceided to leave it alone not pay it any attention, find the item when he was at school or asleep and not say a word about it. Tell his sister that we found it and doesnt matter where. It has been 9 months since we started not giving him the attention and it started working right away and has continued working. This does not mean he never tries or never lies any more but very rarely now and I think its just to check us to see if we will go back to the attention way again. Its not easy but once it starts working it feels great to see the change. Children do not do these things cause they want to be bad.

  24. SameBoatMom (Edit) Report

    Our 10 year old son has lied, stolen & manipulated since he started talking-which was delayed for his age actually (we had him treated for not talking at 2). Now we are on the other extreme and the abundance of talk is questionable at best 🙁 Does anyone else remember delayed speech and now the lies etc. in their child? Just wondering if there is a connection, something similar in their little brains.

    We have resorted to a child therapist due to lies that were completely unacceptable. My son was telling the nuns at his private school that the class needed to pray for reasons such as: mom got fired, our horses got shot, mom broke her arm, dad’s a cop (he’s not) and his partner got shot in the line of duty-none of which was true. His teachers thought our family had the worst luck ever! We have a great child therapist who constantly reminds our son how lucky he is to have parents who care and want him to succeed – our therapist is 100% on our side. Very sad for the parent who said theirs was making excuses for the child-I would switch therapists. And to comment on the hand washing lies – OMG – we wonder constantly why our son lies about something so insignificant! We believe the prayer requests were primarily for attention but washing your hands! That is entirely too much.

    I’ll check back on this blog to see what others are saying..we can use all the help & support we can get.

  25. anita (Edit) Report

    I have a 12 year old. She lies so well that she believes her own lies! She even lies for no reason! I think it’s compulsive. Is this not too abnormal for a kid her age or should we seek professional help?

  26. Stacy (Edit) Report

    I feel everyone’s pain having lived with this for a
    number of years. I think there is wisdom in many of
    these comments. Although it is shocking that your own
    child can be so devious, try to get over it. Your
    shock and dismay and drama doesn’t phase the child.
    Calmy lay out a clear plan, one that includes rewards
    is more successful than you might think. Follow the
    plan for a time period. If it is not successful then
    come up with a new plan. Most discipline plans only
    work for a certain time period.
    I can’t tell you all the things psychiatrists,
    psychologists, numerous people that have diagnosed
    my child incorrectly. I can’t tell you all the
    problems with medications that have been prescribed
    for him. My advice is to know that you are the expert
    on your child. Follow your own instincts.
    It WILL get better, if you hang in there. Allow
    yourself to relax and enjoy your child. Remove as many
    temptations to steal as possible. It may take a
    hundred times of patient correction before he ‘gets’ it.
    My child is fourteen now. Life is not perfection, but
    it gets better all the time.

  27. Luckyroxie (Edit) Report

    I agree with “thinking”… The child is receiving a great deal of attention, negative though it might be, each time there’s a “theft” or a prank where something goes missing. Seems to me that’s what the perp wants and we play right into his hands! I think that downplaying the negative behavior and rewarding good behavior is a fabulous idea. “Finding” the “lost” object is not good behavior — not having any items disappear for a while would be worth rewarding, though!

  28. Emmie (Edit) Report

    Oh, regarding the nanny cam idea: he has actually told us that if we installed cameras he will be better able to control himself. He honestly feels that if he is not watched, he will not be able to control himself. Also, with the reward system we started, if we check his room and do not see that he has hidden something, he will claim his points and get his reward even if he has taken something. For him, it is all about getting away with it, not earning points because he has done the right thing. He took his brother’s doughnuts this week and ate them in his bed. We check his room twice a day and saw the powder. Later I asked what his thinking was because he knew he’d lose points and have to give up his own items and he said, “I did not think I’d get caught.” So if I had not lifted the pillow, he would have gotten his points for the morning and taken credit for it as if he had not taken anything.

  29. Emmie (Edit) Report

    It is nice to see we are not alone. Consequences mean nothing to this little guy. He is in therapy and we have imposed consequences, always the same one. He loses items he has and has to earn them back. We recently started a token economy system where he earns points for every day things, earns for not taking things and can cash them in for a menu of items and activities. We started this last week and within 12 hours he had taken his brother’s gameboy. The doctors are toying with a possibility that he has attachment disorder.

  30. Bythewaymom (Edit) Report

    Hope to see some posts with helpful advice. My 4 grandsons are masters of misdirection and love to get each other in trouble. We really need a practical solution … asap!

  31. thinking (Edit) Report

    just a thought… maybe let it all go except the obviously guilty. he knows he’s lying and getting an awful lot of attention for it, getting the whole family to focus on him for what seems like pretty lengthy periods of time. maybe you can have a family meeting to discuss the virtues of honesty, explain the rules, consequences and expectations of family members, and then put it back on them to follow the rules with the honor system. and then try to catch him in a truth, put the attention there, good luck!!!

  32. javaj39 (Edit) Report

    I would install “nanny cams” in their rooms and never ever tell them they are there. This would give you insight as to who is telling the truth.. It will also give you clarity on how to deal with each situation as to help the “offender” develop his character.

  33. Stacy (Edit) Report

    I should have added that sometimes you can teach your
    child to lie without realizing it. He is lying to
    escape the consequences of stealing. Don’t ask him if
    he did it. For example, say, “Son, we know you took the
    wallet. Return it right now, and there will be no
    punishment.” Give him a chance to return the item with
    no repercussions. Punish him for lying, not for
    stealing. But if and when he steals outside the home,
    let the justice system punish him each and everytime.
    It may take some time, even years, but your child can
    learn to respect others possessions and boundaries.

  34. Stacy (Edit) Report

    Emmie, I have had the same problem with my youngest
    child that started in earnest when he was ten. I
    couldn’t let him out in the neighborhood to play with
    the other children because he steal their cell phones,
    ipods, and anything else including skateboards, and
    bikes. We have had to keep our bedroom doors locked
    and he still breaks into them.
    He was a very convincing liar, but not a great thief.
    I sent him to a treatment center and that did help.
    We have the stategy now that we take away his
    possessions and make him earn them back with a clean
    room and no further stealing. He earns back a new item
    every other day. Because he loves clothes, if he
    steals something and doesn’t return it or ruins
    something, then the money will be taken out of his
    clothing money. You have to take what is most valuable
    to the child.
    Your child sees what he wants and takes it, without
    considering any consequences. So training him to stop
    and consider, before stealing, is a long process.
    Eventually, he will understand that he is earning a
    reputation that is undesirable. Most important is to
    keep loving the child, focus on their good qualities,
    and understand that adhd is a disorder. He is not
    inherently evil. You will get through this.

  35. cab1 (Edit) Report

    Wow, I was just reading this, and this describes my 7 year old step-son to a “T”. He is a master manipulator, and devious liar, and he started when he was 5. He would take his grandfather’s cell phone, car keys, his siblings’ toys, and his favorite was to steal things from other kids at school. It finally blew up in his face this past fall when the principal got involved and they did an in house suspension with him and the school police officer. We got him into therapy and also into treatment for ADHD, but it is still so hard to trust him when something seems fishy or out of the ordinary. This past weekend we had an issue with him washing his hands after he used the bathroom; he was saying he did, but you would hear the toilet flush and then the door open, leaving no time for him to really have had washed his hands, even though he was saying he did. So we went back into the “do you KNOW what kind of germs live on toilets??!!” Which seemed to shock him back into washing his hands again, but it is still so frustrating knowing that he is lying about something as simple as just washing your hands! The pyschatrist we are working with thinks that we over embellish a lot, but it is hard to describe to him some of things this child does but they are just too bizarre. His thoughts that he shared to us are:”he’s just being a boy, a little guy, and he is scared of punishment, so he tries to find ways to get out of it”. The Dr.’s other thought, which kind of scares me, is that “he gets a thrill out of seeing everyone get worked up and feels like he’s in control” and that the ADHD leads to this kind of behavior. Thanks for this post, it’s nice to know there are others in this situation.

  36. kc (Edit) Report

    Would love to hear other responses, as we have similar situations in our home. I have finally decided, since there are TOO MANY incidences where we cannot be sure “beyond a shadow of a doubt” to handle it this way: Due to the repeated history of the suspect, all future incidences which APPEAR by all measures to be the suspect’s doing, will be dealt with by some form of consequence for that suspect. We will try as hard as we can to “prove”, but in the end, even if he’s just highly suspect, a consequence will follow. This is what happens in real life. If the police SUSPECT a person for wrong-doing, that person will be interrogated and may not be able to leave the country, etc. until cleared. Even in a minor level, in the classroom and workplace, if repeated offenses occur with one individual, that suspect will either be expelled/fired, or in the very least, whenever anything amiss happens, they will be suspected.

    I don’t have a perfect answer, and again, am eager to hear what experts have to say in this regard, but this is how we have finally handled it because too much time and energy have been WASTED on all the circular reasoning and denial that the suspect does.



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