Compulsive Lying in children

Compulsive lying in children

Children lie. They just learn it. Children exaggerate, twist the truth, hide the facts, manufacture stories, and deny the obvious. This behavior is easily swept away from parental conscious as it doesn’t show till it doesnt show evil effects.

A matter of grave concern is a child who lies frequently. This psychological pattern is medically termed as Compulsive Lying. Once its onset, it not only works as catalyst to destroy the bond of trust between a child and parents, but also makes him susceptible to follow a future path of unruly and dishonest living.

Once it has been assimilated into a child’s personality it becomes increasingly difficult to stop it. This further catapults a child to experiment with socially unacceptable issues like addictions, adventurous sexual behavior and psychological instability.

Why should a parent be concerned about lying?

Scientific research over the last 50yrs has carried out millions of MRI scans, EEG, and brain mapping tests to find that "lying" is produced by activity in the frontal lobe of the brain. Therefore, Compulsive lying becomes an early symptom of hyperactive frontal lobe functioning.

It’s also an early symptom that indicates an underlying medical problem. Most commonly such a behavior can be associated with following cases:

a. AD or Attention deficit disorder
b. ADHD or attention deficit hyperactive disorder
c. Conduct Disorder
d. Childhood depression
e. Anxiety/stress – this is a spectrum of conditions. The most common forms of anxiety are:
1. Overtly dominant and abusive parent
2. Overtly dominant and abusive class teacher,
3. Overtly dominant and abusive class mate/ bully
4. Living in an hostile environment
5. Adjustment disorder with environment- a child studying in a higher or lower socio-economic class school might lie to make friends.
6. Family Stress- broken homes, constant fights between parents, fight between various family members.

Behaviors patterns associated with compulsive lying?
Compulsive lying slowly succeeds in introducing socially unacceptable behavioral changes within the personality of a child. The success of compulsive lying triggers a child’s mind to use the same technique in socially inadequate behavior patterns like :

1. Stealing,
2. cheating,
3. aggression or violent temper tantrums,
4. skipping school,
5. constantly losing items,
6. inattentiveness or decreased concentration which leads to decreased marks in class.
7. discomfort with social situations
8. poor behavior among groups, social settings or with authority figures.

Children who start to show any of the above erroneous behavioral patterns, are most susceptible to fall prey of anti-social activities in their near future. Such children are known to be easily attracted to addictions, multiple sexual adventures, relationship problems, uncontrollable anger, mood instability and criminal activities (like conning, stealing and even murder).

Why does compulsive lying happen?
There are still some fundamental reasons why children lie compulsively.

1. Fear. Fear is a common motivator for lying. Such fear may be rational or irrational, but the effect of lying is similar - a temporary shelter from punishment.

2. Habit. Lying can also become a habit formed through constant practice. In such cases “lying becomes a reflex”, and when confronted with any situation, their first response is a lie. Habitual lying is often strengthened by hostile confrontation.

One of the most effective ways of dealing with habitual lying is to give the child an opportunity to retract the lie without fear of consequences.

3. Psychological Modeling. Children can learn to lie through experiencing others lie.

One potent source of modeling, is from within the home. "Moderate" lying is thought of by many parents as harmless (such as a "white" lie, or a "harmless excuse") or mistakes (such as an unkept promise), or even purposeful and calculated distortions of the truth ("I had to lie because..."). Since the mind of a child can judge a situation as black or white, he doesn’t comprehend the “Grey” area where such a harmless behavior should be used.

The second most powerful source of modeling is friends circle or classmates. Unfortunately pressurizing a child to choose only friends of parental-choice can lead to decreased development of social skills.

4. Overprediction. Children also lie because they overpredict a reaction. I had seen a case where the child lied because he predicted behavior patterns of his parents and teachers based on his knowledge of the same.

How to Deal with it?

Dealing with compulsive lying is a tricky job for most parents. It requires a step-wise control.

Step 1- Realize compulsive lying is a serious problem. – most parents and society term it as “naughty behavior”, leaving it unattended for years together. It’s important to remember that it not only can develop distorted behavioral patterns, but give rise to future conditions like relationships problems, addictions, anti-social behavior and adjustments disorders.
“prevention is the best cure”

Step 2- Identify the social, emotional and psychological causes leading to such behavior.

Step 3- Sit and talk with your child. Remember one talk won’t change things. You need to develop a communication bridge and slowly introduce the concept of honesty.

Step 4- Make certain ground rules about lying for the child to follow.

Step 5- If the child breaks the ground rules, punish him. Punishment should be firm, more directed to bring psychological change and above all humane.

If after all your efforts the child doesn’t show any improvement, and you receive complains of certain behavioral problems arising due to it, immediately consult your local psychiatrist/psychologist to identify the deeper conscious/unconscious nuances of the problem. ( remember a psychiatrist/psychologist don’t treat mad people, but treat distorted emotional, behavioral and psychological patterns).

If you know of some kid who is suffering from such a problem, do help him get on the right path.


Dr.Hemant Mittal (MBBS, PGDPM)


  1. I have seen one Compulsive liar , I suppose I concluded he had mytho-mania. Certain characteristic where too observed like he started assassinating character of person who caught his lie, including avoiding him.

    I tried to point out that this is serious issue and in future will lead to more complication , One of his friend also tried to help him. Since we had caught him he started avoiding us and even his cousin did not consider it as serious issue which we felt.

    Just shared one experience

  2. I've been concerned about my 8 year old niece's behavior for a while now. I was afraid that she was pathological but after some research I'm more convinced that she's compulsive. I am saddened and worried about all that awaits her if this continues to go untreated however the techniques described here do give me hope that there is something that I (as a close relative who is not her parent) can do to help her. Thank you!

  3. I have been reading about compulsive lying in kids and see much about the fear factor and other reasons like that but have not seen anything regarding cases where it seems the parent just simply believes the child. No harsh punishment, just the child getting away with everything. Making up glorified stories that never really happened, it's nuts. I have been experiencing this for years with a friend of my child. Who just simply makes up stories for no reason. Not to get out of something, though that does happen too. I mean I have caught the kid red-handed in a lie and have call her on it and made her sit out of the group or just told her that she is lying and i know it and it has to stop this second or she will go home. The kid just turns white and is totally stunned but does not cross me at all in the end about the lie she seems to admit. But when I talk to the parent she has no idea, blows it off as something small. Acts like she's completely miffed by it all. How can that be, EVERYTIME I am around this kid I watch her lie and I say something. EVERYTIME for years now. the kid is in middle school now and I fear for the types of things she will cause. I no longer let my daughter interact with this child but she is still around in the group of friends that she knows which concerns me because she has already tried to sabotage my daughter online, which was awful !! Has anyone else experienced this with another parent in denial of this ? Can they REALLY not know ? What to do ?

    1. The problem sometimes starts with the parents and how they are raising the child. The girl might just be imitating one of her parents, that do the same thing. Or, is just never taught differently because the parents do not care.

  4. My daughter is 11years old. She has been telling lies for as long as i can remember. Not always to get out of trouble, simple things like "Did you do such an such?" "No, I can't do that" "Have you ever tried?" "No", Outright lie. Its putting a strain on my marriage as i fell victim to believind her for years. My youngest is 8 and the complete opposite. Its so hard not to favour my 8 yr old. All punishments for lies have failed and it still continues. Yesterday i saw a pear with a bite in it in the fruit bowl, i asked who had done it and they both said not me. I asked again and agin (calmly and nicly) but got the same response. I said unless i get the truth you are both grounded. My 11yr old asked if that meant both of them and for how long. I said yes and till i get the truth. She spent the whole day telling me it wasn't her and even Promised it wasn't. I told them again and again i was only going to ask the culrit to put it in the bin. Yet still she lied. Up until i overheard them talking and her telling my 8yr old to say it was her, "But it wasnt me?!" saod the 8yr old. I got very cross and told my 11yr old that getting her little sister to take the blame and get punished (grounded till i knew the truth) is unacceptable behaviour. I'm heartbroken and have no idea how to stop her. I have tried everything. How do i get her to stop and start tellinng the truth? Its not learned behaviour and we are not over strict or over loose parents. Any help much apreciated.

  5. there seems to be a lot of conflicts over here:
    a. the prime seems that your elder one is trying to get all the attention.
    she has also adapted to using lying as a easy way to come out of a situation.

    b. the best way out is by teaching her the importance of responsibility.
    this can be done in many ways:
    i. if you have a pet, she needs to be completely incharge of the pet.
    it doesnt matter if the animal fall ill, she needs to be responsible.

    ii. something she likes to do, and wants to do. she has to earn it.

    iii. teaching them the importance of money and making sure you deduct the same whenever she lies.

    in cases of compulsive lying the most important thing is to analyze from where it is originating.

    c. if nothing is working take her to a child counselor/psychiatrist.. a short term therapy of some non-sedative, non-addictive medications can help in curbing such behavior

  6. My son is 18 and moved out of our house. Just last night his father emailed me and told me that he was kicked out of the currently living location due to not paying rent and lying constantly. I have been dealing with this type of behaviour my son's entire life. Our son doesn't tell the truth on anything it seems. I was a single parent for about 9 years and am a fairly strict parent so fear may be a factor but I have since employed all the techniques short of sending him for counselling to reteach him about his lying. I am at a lose and honestly feel for the safety and sanity of my marriage and 3 other children that I will have to loose my son. Is there any other options out there since he is no longer in the house???

  7. he might need to learn it the hard way.. sometimes taking responsibility for one's own self teaches the importance of honesty.

    also consulting a professional psychiatrist as he might be having a certain brain lobe hyperactivity that requires treatment.

  8. I am living with my parents, my 3 year old son, and my Neice. My niece is 8 years old. Nina has been raised like my little sister. I've noticed that her behavior is unusual for an 8 year old. Nina lies constantly about everything and anything. I do believe she realizes what she is doing. It's almost like breathing for her. She is constantly whining and yelling and crying and making disrespectful comments to myself and my little boy. I am truly being harassed by an 8 year old. The strange thing is she knows when, where, and whom she act around. Yes, act. When she gets disciplined at home she will cry extremely loud, and try to make herself throw up. And when she does throw up she says, “see what you made me do." But, when out in public and she is disciplined she won’t cry loud and will not try to make herself throw up. I've also noticed that in public setting she will not be whining or yelling or making disrespectful comments. As if she knows what she is doing. She seems to manipulate the people around her. At school she is a total different person. I do understand that my parents the ones whom have raised her are to blame. When they do catch her in a lie they don't seem to discipline her or tell her its wrong. They don’t seem to correct her bad behavior either. My mom is the one to discipline her. My dad only disciplines her when he becomes annoyed with her which is really when she is too loud that he can’t watch TV in peace.. My mom is never around due to her work schedule. So basically she gets away with the compulsive lying and behavior. Nina's biological parents have both had(have) serious,conduct,drug, and compulsive lying issues. I was wondering if whatever my niece has is genetic or bad parenting or both? And how to convince my parents to get her some kind of help. My dad disagrees with me and says well she is a child and I'm the one that needs help. I need some kind of advice. The latest thing she did today was I yelled at her for making loud noises. She started crying and told my father I pulled her hair. Completely false. She also has bad temper tantrums and aggression. Any advice will help thanks.

  9. We adopted a 7.5 year old boy almost three years ago. He had been in the foster system for 4 years at that point. We had not fostered him, but decided to adopt by going through the state. He is an amazing child--smart, funny, and sweet. When he first arrived, he had extreme anger issues. We were able to work through them as a family. But, he is a compulsive liar. Everything we have tried has failed. He is an only child and has a full, fun, and safe life. We have tried (and continue to try) the "no consequences for anything if you tell the truth." We always allow retraction time. We have also tried various consequences. Nothing seems to make a dent in the problem. Counseling has also not made a huge change, but our son views counseling as something foster kids need. Can you please give us some other ideas or suggestions? Thank you!

    1. I am this boat with two children. We see a psychiatrist and have done years of counsoling just to have the kids lie and tell more stories there. I got tired of pay money for them to lie and didnt feel the issue was being adressed.The only respondes I would get is that there going to do it all there life. I feel like if I dont try to do anything about it, I have just given up but not sure what more to do.

  10. can you please email me in detail at

    wud need some more information also.

  11. Hi, my husband and I are having a very difficult time with my step-daughter, who is 12 years old. She has been in behavioral counseling for the past year and a half, she has been experiencing severe issues of lying for the past 3 years and is having a difficult time with authority in the home but is she is very subtle and sneaky about her disobedience. My husband and I have tried everything, talking and counseling have not worked and the behavior is getting worse, Her mother is in and out of her life but has not real visitation with her. The behavior issues are causing major problems between my husband and I. Should we see a psychiatrist? Is it possible that she may need to be treated through medicine for this?

  12. yes you need to visit a counselor and psychiatrist.. she can be cured from this problem.

  13. I am this boat with two children. We see a psychiatrist and have done years of counsoling just to have the kids lie and tell more stories there. I got tired of pay money for them to lie and didnt feel the issue was being adressed.The only respondes I would get is that there going to do it all there life. I feel like if I dont try to do anything about it, I have just given up but not sure what more to do.

  14. I found this article to be very thought provoking. Thank you

  15. hi i am writing in respect to a friends child who is 11ys old.She is constantly lying could be something small or big . She has issues with past with her dad as she doesnt see him for reasons (an incident accurred between his other younger children, were the child in question had taken the toddlers nappy off an then was blamed for sexual abuse ) the child in question denies this. Then from that she has seen her dad on and off ! Her dad is a substance missuse user from when she was baby til now. She often flares up from time to time saying she misses her dad an step siblings, an in result something hapens at school, youth club or home i.e lying or a behaviour incident. She has had counselling in past an at present . Her mum also said at 2yrs she had a behaviourial counsellor to asses her at home ! I dont always get the full story from mum (pattern repeating !)Her mum doesnt believe that dragging things up from the past helps an thus has a negative approach to the childs counselling . I would like some ideas of suggestions that i could pass on to her mum many thanks

  16. my step son constantly lies about the silliest little things that he wont even get in trouble for if he didnt lie about it and finally we made him write a 10 page essay about lying and stealing and how they may effect ones future because he also has stolen from us in the past do vyou think this is appropriate??? any suggestions on what i should do it is effecting our marrige and my other two children

  17. Although I am terribly saddened by everyone's hardship, I am relieved that there are others going through similar things as I have for at least 3 years now. My 10 year old lies compulsively, and it has progressively gotten worse. To accompany the lies, she has also been caught sneaking food, and hiding it random places in the house oftentimes in spots where she knows I will look, taking things that dont belong to her, and damaging personal items while denying everything. It has gotten to the point that I don't think she doesnt even care about the consequences of her actions. I have tried therapy/counseling/patience and whatever sanity is deteriorating in the process. Any help/suggestions would be appreciated.

  18. I have a step daughter that lies about everything. She nearly got one boy (her brother's friend) for sexual assault. The boy would have been arrested if it weren't the fact that step daughter didn't understand that people have alibis (he was with 15 other people at the time she said she saw him) and that he couldn't have been at both places at the same time. It took over a year for her to say she lied. This incident had her move back with her biological mom and we concluded that is why she lied. Her mother only paid attention to her when things were bad.
    She lies about her brother beating her when I was in the same room and no amount of telling her there are eye witnesses to the contrary would make her admit that she is lying.
    She steals, throws tantrums at school if things are not done her way, even made up that she had her period for nearly 2 years to find out she lied about that too...we figured it was to gain attention...again.
    She can be sweet, and she is quiet when about her business..not an ADHD child but definitely something is going on.
    I wonder if her mother's lying has something to do with it...she is actually not my husbands daughter but his cousin's...her mother left the family because of wanting to pursue her lifestyle with multiple men (from abuse in her past she says) and her other kids caught her lying...she will make excuses as to why she cannot see them that gas money, stressed out, tired, no day off, etc.
    She ignores her daughter's lies and I have to say, so does my husband, and that has made the lies worse and continue. She has had therapy but her mother stops it as soon as she sees progress...
    I have fear when step daughter is over because she might lie about the son's friends that come I end up watching her like a hawk where she is at in the house so that she wouldn't falsely accuse anyone of stresses me out and has made things difficult for my husband and me...

  19. I am at a loss on what to do with my 14 yr old daughter. She has been diagnosed with flattned affact, ADD, anxiety, and depression. Her lies are out of control. She is on prozac, and birth control to try and level her out. It doesn't seem to be helping. Lies to get out of trouble, lies of anorexia, lies of inappropriate touching, just lies lies lies. My husband and I are at our witts end. Any suggestions on treatment or ability to lesson it

  20. I used to be a compulsive liar. I new it was wrong and I felt guilty every time I did it. I did it all. Lied to my Mother (who I loved dearly), made up random stories that never happened. I even went so far as to create a MSN account of a boy I "met" in another province so people would believe that I had a boyfriend. I lied about everything because I hated my own life. Being the youngest of a large family, I seeked attention and would do anything to get it. I never felt love from my father and he moved away for good when I was 11. I went to 3 different elementary schools do to moving (not cause I was bad)and I made up a entirely new identity at each one. Once I hit high school and continued this charade, I met a boy. I fell in love, but the damage was done. I had lied to him so much that I was very embarrassed and eventually confessed everything. He was mad but he forgave me. He was the only one to stand by me afterwards. I lost all my friends but he never did. The truth DID set me free. We are now married with a baby and I couldn't be happier. I sort of did a 180 and now it's as if I CAN'T lie. The guilt is too powerful. I'm noticing my niece having the same tendencies and she is 12. I've been working with her and pretty much tell her "She can't bullshit and bullshitter".

    1. Thankyou for an insider view. You must be a much stronger person for your changes. To get a young mind to feel truely loved and believed seems so essential in many ways.

  21. Thank goodness I am not alone. My 10 yr-old is a compulsive liar - in fact the first answer that always comes out of her mouth is a lie. She steals food, clothing, siblings toys, etc. very strongly denies it over and over and then screams and blames everyone else when she gets found out. I've tried lots of different strategies and nothing has worked. I've taken things away, explained that she wont get in trouble is she tells the truth, spent time with her and encouraged positive friendships but she does not seem to understand consequences at all. She just continues the same behaviors over and over. She's a smart kids who does well at school. I have now had to take her to see psychologist in the hope that helps both her and me.

  22. My son is 7 and has been diagnosed with ADHD. He is very manipulative and sneaky. He is also a compulsive liar. It started as cute stories and school but has no escalated to stories of mistreatment at the hands of my boyfriend. He did this when we first go together and almost caused his father and my boyfriend to come to blows. I explained to him before how important it was for him to not lie on people and he apologized. It has no happened again, but he is going to school. I am the only working person in the house so it is very tense and stressful. My boyfriends feels that he cannot have a positive relationship with him out of fear that his lies will only get bigger. He feels that he is in the position to be put in jeopardy. I want my boyfriend to also understand that my child is dealing with a disability and you cannot be as harsh about things as you would any other child. He may know he is telling lies but may not fully understand the extent. I want him to be able to sit and talk to him not be aggressive and angry. My boyfriend feels that I am being passive and enabling my child. I am just as stressed about it as he is. I have to deal with the two men in my life at odds. I don't know how to address it. Punishments and Restricting do not work with my son. He can careless. How do I fix this without losing my son or my boyfriend? How can I stress the importance of telling the truth to my son? HELP!!!! I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  23. Im in the same boat with my 11 and 12 year old boys. Its been four years since theyve been in our home and I always have been honest about their situation as I felt thay needed to know which they understood everything. I did it that way so that they knew what they came form and where they are now. They see all the changes we had to make so that we would be able to take care of them plus our own 5. They are bright boys that can understand so I expected that in 4 years they are well aware of what is required in our home and the rules and why there are rules. They graduated form counseling, We have tried every type of punishment and responded to NONE. They are sweet boys and do not talk back. However thay have CHRONIC problems with lyind and stealing. So bad that my 11 year old stole 3500 from my deposit bag which ended my job. One month later he was caught in school. I am really at the point of just letting them be who they are. Im not sure there is help. They want everything but dont want to have to earn it. Im Sad but mostly because deep down inside I dont feel that there is a chance for change.

  24. You say you wrote this post, but it's almost identical to this one from 2008: Not sure I can put a lot of trust in a professional that steals their advice from another website. Ironic that it's a post about lying, isn't it???

  25. @junque rethunque - i own
    so its a post by me.. on both.