Parenting tips for disciplining lying and stealing

Show me a parent who has not dealt with a child that lies, cheats, or steals, and I’ll show you a parent who is either too busy to notice these behaviors or too proud to admit it. All kids at some point tell a lie, and most have on more than one occasion taken something that didn’t belong to them or moved eight spaces on the game board when the die clearly showed six. I know that I did as a kid and I know my own children have done the same.

One of our guests on this week’s Creating a Family Radio Show, Kim John Payne, a family counselor for 30 years and author of The Soul of Discipline: The Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance- From Toddlers to Teens, pointed out the annoying behaviors of lying, stealing and cheating tend to peak on what he called “cusp years”—ages where children are at developmental thresholds approaching the next level.

  • ages 6-7-on the cusp of childhood
  • ages 9-10- on the cusp of adolescence
  • ages 14-15-on the cusp of adulthood

Just because it’s common and even developmentally appropriate, doesn’t mean that we should ignore these behaviors. It is, in fact, our job as parents to help our kiddos develop a moral compass. Fortunately, both of our guests on this week’s Creating a Family show (Kim Payne and Rebecca Rozema, an adoption social worker with Bethany Christian Services and their National ADOPTS Program Director, were full of great suggestions.

8 Tips for Disciplining Lying, Cheating and Stealing

  1. Clearly state that the behavior is not acceptable. “We do not steal in our family!”
  2. Affirm your child’s worth. Distinguish between the act and the person—she told a lie, but she is not a liar. “I know that you usually tell the truth.”
  3. Discover what motivated the behavior. Usually the lie or the stealing is not the whole story. Did she lie about her homework because she is overwhelmed by the Core Knowledge Math? Did she steal her brothers phone because he ignored her?
  4. Give a do-over or way to make it up to the person harmed.
  5. Don’t give your child the opportunity to lie. This is not always an option, but if you know that your child usually has math homework on Monday’s, don’t ask him when he gets home if he has homework. Rather, ask him to show you his assignment. If you know that she broke the cookie jar, ask her to get the broom to clean it up rather than asking if she was the one who broke it.
  6. Give your child time to tell the truth. Many children need time to process their options and think through the consequences of telling a lie vs. telling the truth. Some kids if rushed, will automatically take the path of least resistance and tell a lie. Tell your child to take their time before answering, and if they need to say something while they are thinking to say “I’m not sure.”
  7. Reward good behavior. When our kids are going through a lying phase, it is easy for this behavior to become our focus. Look for opportunities where your child told the truth and specifically acknowledge that he made the hard choice to be honest.
  8. Read book and tell stories that include character facing hard decisions about lying, stealing, or cheating. Tell stories from you own life when you made a mistake. Include bedtime books such as:

Listen to this terrific discussion with Kim Payne and Rebecca Rozema for ever more practical suggestions.


What has worked for you when teaching your children to not lie, steal, or cheat?

Image credit: Marco NedermeijerGiorgia PallaroPoppy