Prev Next
When Preschoolers Lie

When Your Preschooler Lies

By Amalah

Hi to Amy from another Amy!

Congrats on the 3rd baby on the way! I have 3 myself, a 5 year old girl, a 3 year old girl, and an 8 month old boy. I love your writing and you give great advice. I really hope you can help me.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesLast week a box of Girl Scout cookies went missing. I thought the 3 year old might have “relocated” them (like she “relocated” my keys last week) until we found the empty box and cookie crumbs stuffed under our couch in the basement. Our 5 year old vehemently denied eating them. Lied straight to our faces, pretty convincingly for 2 days, until we finally told her we knew she stole the cookies and lied about it. Then she cracked and admitted the whole thing. We took away all desserts/sweet snacks (of which we don’t have many) for 15 days. The cookies were Tagalongs which come 15 to a box, so a day of punishment for each cookie eaten. We also took away TV/movies in the basement for lying to us, also for 15 days. We explained why stealing and lying are wrong, she had to pay her tooth fairy money to replace the box, we seemed to have a chastened and penitent little girl. Done deal, right?

WRONG. This weekend I caught her eating SUGAR! OUT OF THE BAG! We had all the discussions again. We yelled. We explained. We hugged. We seemed to understand each other.

Today while I was nursing the baby and putting him down for his nap she stole her dad’s Nutty Bars and ate them in her room. They were on a high shelf in our pantry so getting them must have been an involved process.

She just keeps stealing sweets! And lying about it! Okay, maybe this does not sound like a huge problem (I mean, as kids haven’t we all snuck cookies and candy?) but I have completely run out of ideas at this point. She seems to understand what we’re talking about but SHE JUST KEEPS DOING IT!!! I even thought about completely taking all sweets out of the house but what can I do if she’s eating sugar out of the bag? Put a lock on the pantry door? I always make sure she has plenty of healthy snacks, she never goes hungry. Unless it’s an hour until a meal I give her choices of fruit, veggies, pretzels, popcorn, cheese sticks, etc.

If you have any ideas please help me. I’m at my wit’s end!

Amy, AKA Sweet Tooth’s Mommy

We just caught Noah in his Very First Lie Ever this week. (Falsifying results on his reward/sticker/behavior chart.) I include this anecdote for two reasons:

1) I don’t yet have a ton of experience under my belt with lying yet, other than the fact that I still distinctly remember telling some whoppers as a child.

2) Lying — or having difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality, or when it’s appropriate to engage in fantasy/”not-real” talk and when it’s important to tell Mommy what actually really happened — is a very, very common thing at five years old. Some kids start struggling with it even earlier, and although by five you may see the little brain-wheels turning as your child realizes that they can maaaaaybe avoid punishment and consequences by simply indulging in a little “I’ll just PRETEND I was a good girl” storytelling, it’s still not necessarily a sign that your child is turning into a manipulative pathological liar.

The punishments you meted out — monetary dings for the stealing aspect, no sweets for the rule-breaking aspect, and loss of TV privilege for the lying part — along with a loving heart-to-heart about WHY stealing and lying is wrong, sound to me like a situation pretty well-handled.

But then. The eating-sugar-out-a-bag thing. The climbing-up-to-dangerous-heights-to-obtain-candy thing. Especially in light of the fact that your daughter does seem to be listening and comprehending your lectures and explanations, and isn’t stealing anything other than highly refined sugary snacks (like say, toys from school or stores), raises some red flags for me that have nothing to do with a behavioral problem. It sounds…too compulsive, and (correct me if I’m wrong) otherwise out of character for your daughter?

Honestly, before worrying too much more about lying, I’d call your pediatrician and see about getting some blood work done. Something nutritional might be going on here.

If a child was behaving this way over something that didn’t taste good — like a craving for dirt or dishwasher detergent — we’d all probably yell PICA! and hustle her in for a check of her vitamin/mineral levels. Sure, sugar tastes good, but the quantities she’s eating should still technically result in tummy aches or some physical consequence afterwards. (Puking up seven stolen cupcakes’ worth of colored icing, anyone?) That, combined with parental consequences for the stealing/sneaking, should be at least a minor deterrence against repeat offenses. But it sounds like the opposite is happening, as your daughter’s craving/need for sugar simply compels her to seek out crazier options (the bag) or more dangerous ones (treats that require climbing, stacking, potential for falls).

If her blood sugars and nutritional levels do indeed check out and your pediatrician doesn’t find an underlying medical problem, you probably will want to drastically change how sugar and sweets are stored at your house. Get rid of them completely, wherever possible. Stock up on snacks without refined sugar. Then move everything else — like the baking supplies — into a cabinet with a lock. (There’s baby-proofing and then there’s child-proofing. I promise you won’t be the only preschool/kindergarten parent taking similar measures.) Be extra careful about using sugar and sweet-tasting foods as a reward/bribe or banning them completely from all circumstances, since then you’re just making it seem extra forbidden and worth sneaking around for. Sweets can be off-limits at home because of the repeated stealing/lying incidents, but it’s probably okay to treat her to an ice cream cone or something while you’re out as a family and she asks nicely.

Head to the childrens’ section of the bookstore and library and get some books about lying and/or stealing. (I still remember these oldies from my own childhood — The Berenstain Bears and the Truth, The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food, and The Berenstain Bears and the Double Dare. Clearly, those bears were my parents’ go-to family for Important Illustrated Lessons About Things.)  If you sense that she’s ready to get out of the compulsive sweet-stealing habit, you can try relaxing the rules at home. In the meantime, though, I’d continue to simply reinforce the whole “lying/stealing is wrong” message whenever you can…while removing the bulk of temptation for your own sanity’s sake. (Read Amalah’s update in the comments section).

Editor’s Note: I would highly recommend that you read the comments section where there are very insightful thoughts, helpful suggestions and differing opinions being shared by other parents. Thank you dear readers for offering your experiences and understanding to the conversation.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • Stephanie

    March 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I’m with Amy on this one. My first thought wasn’t, wow she’s stealing and lying, it was – she’s eating sugar out of the bag? I think getting some bloodwork done would be good because something’s going on here.
    Other than that I’m at a loss.

  • Suzy

    March 8, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    You know, I think it’s the opposite. When I was a kid I would have snuck around for sugar because my parents were SO strict about “treats” and restrictive that I never learned the “cookies are a sometimes food” lessons – how to eat till satisfied, enjoy one cookie and not need five, etc. Just saying – sometimes being overly restrictive can lead it in the other direction as well.

  • Wiley

    March 8, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    I have a tendency to revert to dog training for parenting dilemmas, so my first thought would be she seems to have established a pattern of an undesired behavior, so the first step is to break the pattern. In this case, I’d say do like Amy says and make it impossible for her to access the sweets. Then once she’s been “clean” for a while because she can’t perform the behavior, start gradually adding back in opportunities along with discussion of what behaviors are expected and what are not.

    I think the medical question is definitely worth calling and asking, but more to rule out something medical than thinking it is for sure the answer. I definitely enjoyed cotton candy when I was that age…

  • Delora

    March 8, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    I’d love some more suggestions from the comments, because my 10yo is exactly the same way. The food stealing started around the same age (5-6), and has gotten worse over the years. It’s not just sugar anymore for him – it’s all refined carbs. He’ll take entire sleeves of crackers and gorge on them in his room. After Halloween, he was sneaking into our bedroom and stealing the leftover candy I’d hidden. I had hidden some ice cream sandwiches for me in the downstairs freezer and he found those and ate two, then proceeded to lie about it for about 4 hours (even though I found the empty wrapper and knew 100% he’d eaten one). We’ll pack his lunch, then he won’t eat it and buy the school lunch, and then lie about that (there’s an online tracking site the school uses that we’ve had to start monitoring).

    And it isn’t just annoying at this point – he has a serious weight problem (with a BMI of about 27).

    I fear he lied once or twice and realized he got away with it, and now that’s all he does whenever we confront him with stealing food. And for us, the stealing does seem to be limited to food, but the lying itself is pervasive in everything; homework, chores, etc. We’re totally at a loss. This child has basically been broke and grounded since Thanksgiving as we make him pay for food he’s stolen & lies he’s told.

  • Emma B

    March 8, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Maybe this is my own set of food issues talking,I totally disagree that locking up/eliminating the sweets is a good solution here. In fact, I think it might make the problem worse, and potentially set your daughter up for some serious food issues. If you lock up the sugar, that reinforces the message to get sweets whenever you can sneak them, and eat as fast/as many as you can before you get caught. That is NOT a healthy attitude about food, and it sounds like your daughter’s already going down this track.

    If my daughters (age 4.5) started doing this, I would probably take the opposite tack and feed them MORE sugar — serve dessert more often, allow them to eat more of it, go out for ice cream more often, etc.. If they get the idea that there will be another opportunity in the near future to eat cookies, it fights the impulse to eat ALL THE COOKIES IN THE WORLD NOW. No, sugar’s not good for them, but I would totally rather they eat a bit more of it for a few weeks while learning self-control.

    I also wonder if this isn’t linked to a change in the mother’s eating habits. I saw that she mentioned that all of the candy was “Dad’s”, and putting that together with the 8-month-old makes me wonder if perhaps the mom is on a baby-weight-loss diet and has cranked down on the whole family. 

  • gail

    March 8, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Oh my, I feel like you are describing me as a child. I LOVED sugar (still do), would lie about it, would eat it out of the bag, and so on. No blood sugar issues, no weight issues – just a love for sweet things. My mom started teaching me how to bake and that really helped. I wasn’t allowed any store-bought sugary things but could have desserts we made together in moderation. For me, knowing I could have something sweet in moderation (even things with honey) made me cut down on trying to get sugar other places.

  • Amy Beth

    March 8, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    I agree with EmmaB. I don’t think locking up food is the answer either. I think creating a meal plan where there is healthy food all day, and then a dessert after every dinner, or chocolate milk, etc. is a much better plan. Feeling like sugar is a forbidden ecstasy is NOT going to help. She needs to get tired of it. Which is obviously not happening.

  • M.

    March 8, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I usually agree with Amy 200% on everything but I am sort of confused here.

    First, yep, I would get the kid to a pediatrician pronto. Just in case.

    But medical issues aside, I am a bit surprised by the punishment(s). Three separate punishments for what was essentially one misdemeanor, and lasting 15 days, for a 5 year old… strikes me as a bit much, and I think, in this particular situation might even be counterproductive.
    Another way of looking at this, I think concentrating on one issue instead of three issues all at once might be helpful.

    I also second Emma B.’s comment.

    I like the way they do it in Sweden. Swedish kids are only allowed sweets on Saturdays… but then they can eat as much as they like. My friend moved to Sweden a few years ago and was much impressed. Nobody will offer sweets to a kid on any other day. Everybody’s abiding by this rule and kids treat it as the most natural thing in the world.

  • Tara

    March 8, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    I thought about sugar levels as well, likely because I have family members with the issue. To go above and beyond for a type of food like that shouts underlying issue to me, more than just ‘it tastes good’.

    I really wanted to touch on the lying, though. All children develop differently, and I don’t believe every 5 year old has a firm grasp on what lying even is. Some children that have reached the age have a pretty good understanding that a lie is telling something that isn’t ‘really real’… but to someone who’s world is full of fantasy creatures and fairies and muppets and imaginary friends… I imagine it’s a transition.

    The third of my children to turn 5 has not done well with telling the whole truth all the time. She seems to be stuck halfway between what is real and what she wants to be real. She has been told that there is a big purple dot between her eyes when she lies. She has no control over the dot, just like she has no control over people uncovering the truth. When she begins to tell a lie I like to ask ‘Is that a purple dot?” as I look at her forehead. She usually covers the area with her hand and begins to tell the truth. She is starting to get the difference between imaginary play and conversation.

    Funny though, she asked a cashier not long ago if he was lying… he had a giant zit between his brows. It looked painful. When she asked me about it in the car I told her that maybe if you tell too many lies that your dot doesn’t go away anymore. Maybe it’s like when you cross your eyes ~ your face might stay that way. She didn’t like that. Grandma got a kick out of it though.

  • Amalah

    March 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I think my wording must not have been clear — I did NOT mean to suggest that sugar become 100% locked-up-and-off-limits.

    I suggested that the OP lock up (or make inaccessible) the BAKING supplies, like BAGS of sugar, chocolate chips, that sort of thing. And then limit sweets to a supervised fun thing with the family, mostly out of the house (restaurants, a treat at the store) for now, temporarily, until she feels like she can trust her daughter not to scale the pantry shelves in search of candy while she’s nursing the baby.

    We don’t keep junk food in the house either, other than the occasional batch of cookies or granola bars with mini chocolate chips in them. My kids loooooove sweets, and they get PLENTY, just…not usually at home, where candy and cookies can just lie around being a Big Temptation or Thing To Beg For Constantly. But “not in the house” does not mean “not ever/forbidden/omg.” Sorry that wasn’t clearer. 

  • Karen

    March 8, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    I agree with Emma and Amy B…all too often I’ve seen kids resort to this kind of behavior when they’re acting against severe restriction in sweets. I have a friend who, at first when she became a mom, was determined that no sugar would pass her kid’s lips.. She said he wouldn’t be obsessed with sugar if he didn’t get any. Then one day they got some chocolates for a Christmas present; she put them up on a shelf very high, thinking that he wouldn’t find them. She came into the kitchen to find him all the way up there, stuffing them in his mouth.
    My son had a friend whose mom was very restrictive about what they ate–no dessert except once a week, if that, and no candy at all. Said friend came to a party at our house, and part of the favors included a few pieces of candy. His mom came to pick him up, and saw the candy in his hand and said, “You know you can’t eat that.” She then had to go out to her car for a minute, and darned if that kid didn’t hide behind the door and literally stuff every piece of candy in his mouth then and there, and wolf it down. My kids are allowed two miniature candy bars, or a small dish of ice cream, or two cookies, after a good meal; we’ve had lots of discussions about how you need to eat healthy food before eating sweets, or you’ll get sick; you should never eat more treats than healthy food, et cetera. We actually have a bowl of candy out in the dining room at all times. They still have their Halloween stash in their desks. I’ve yet to see them hoarding or gorging, because they know the treats are there, they will not be taken away, and all they have to do is ask after eating their dinners. Sometimes we use treats for prizes, even. Making sugar a forbidden fruit, and locking it away, only makes the child feel like they can’t be trusted.

  • grammy

    March 8, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Whatever the infraction, and even with the lying, it seems to me that the consequences delivered are out of kilter for a 5-year-old. Fifteen days? Imagine what that must seem like to someone who doesn’t even know how to read a calendar, yet.

    When I was small, my mother said I could have 25 cents a week allowance “if I was good and did my chores”. Except I never, ever, not a single time, ever got that “allowance” no matter how hard I tried. Some infraction would always result in not getting my allowance “that week” (“Yes, you made your bed, but this corner isn’t very straight” or “I said it was your job to take out the trash and on Tuesday you didn’t do it till I reminded you”).

    It was only a few weeks, which seemed like a lifetime to me, when I realized that no matter how hard I tried, if I wasn’t perfect I would never get an allowance. So I stopped trying.

    Don’t make the punishment so large that no 5-year-old can comply with it. Maybe a few days of self-control is something she should be expected to manage, and you can work with that. Thinking that you just got a life sentence for lying about cookies isn’t likely to shape your behavior in a positive way, is it?

  • Olivia

    March 8, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    I’m also wondering if these particular sweets (not the bag of sugar) have been made taboo and therefore more tempting. As a child, and even now, if I’m told I can’t have a certain food, I crave it more. She also might be going for the sugar because she’s tired and her body is telling her sugar will give her more energy.

    The lying and steeling could also be a cry for attention since there is a baby in the house.

  • professormama

    March 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Locking up all the sugar does create a a dangerous relationship to sweets.  If the blood work is normal, it’s probably a good idea to loosen up about treats as long they are eaten after a healthy meal. My kids actually turn down treats if it’s not something they’re excited about- as in “No thanks, I wish we had chocolate, I don’t feel like having a cookie/slice of cake”.
     We don’t let them have many of they artificially flavored/colored candies (because eeew), but they get chocolate, ice cream cones if we’re out, a special treat from the bakery, or a cookie at WHole foods. They know it’s ONLY after a good meal, and that’s that.
    They get a treat after dinner most nights, and after lunch on the weekend if they eat well. If we’re too strict about food as parents we run the risk of sending our kids out into the world of friends houses, sleepovers and play dates with no ability to moderate what they eat. I can always pick out the kid with crazy dietary rules at home- he or she runs straight for the snack food or treats and eats as much and as fast as possible. 

  • Olivia

    March 8, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Grammy, you make a good point about the punishment fitting the age of the child. That was another thing that struck me in the original post. I remember my mother telling us that any punishment we got would be much less severe if we fessed up right away. This went a long way to making me feel safe to tell the truth even when I had knowingly broken a different rule.

  • Carrie

    March 8, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    That sounded like me as a little girl. I was a complusive sweets eater. I still am. It was/is like I NEEDED the sweets. I can’t even explain how it feels. Maybe a drug user would understand? I would steal sugar straight from the bag. When I was old enough for an allowance I would buy cake mixes and hide them in my drawer and eat them with a spoon.

    I probably needed (still need) some type of counseling or something. I don’t know what the answer is, but I totally agree that this is beyond the stealing and lying. She needs some help and now is the time to get it for her. Before locking everything up, I would talk to a professional counselor about the best way to go about controlling her urges.

  • LB

    March 8, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    When I was a kid, my brother used to sneak snack foods and lie about it. We didn’t have much money, but we were always well-fed on healthy foods. My mom would buy one or two snack items a week for our family of 6, and my brother would often sneak and eat way more than his fair share. It really sucked when my sisters and I had to have raisins as a treat in our lunchboxes because our brother ate all of the cookies. The sad update to the story is that my brother developed type 2 diabetes in his early 30’s. My sisters and I have no health problems.

  • Karen

    March 8, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    I ate sugar and lied about it too as a kid. Once I drank Hawaiian Punch concentrate straight from the bottle. Sugar cubes were another favorite. So fun the way they melt in your mouth. I never had my blood sugar tested though no flags were raised during my pregnancy. I still crave pure refined sugar as an adult – it’s definitely some biological thing that I can only override with behavior changes and willpower. I should ask my mom how she punished me for lying about eating sugar ad a kid but I recall that nothing, not even no TV, spanking, etc. would deter me. I just had to have it.

  • Bear

    March 8, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Just FYI, in adults a craving for sweets pretty frequently is a mask for craving protein. I imagine it must be similar for children – maybe she needs a higher-protein diet? 

  • Jillian

    March 8, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    I also wondered about a medical issue as I read. It’s certainly not a slam dunk, but a quick visit to the pediatrician would ensure she’s working with all the facts.

  • Elizabeth

    March 8, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    My parents are both doctors and were strict in their no-sugar policies. My sister & I would mix melted baking (completely unsweetened) chocolate with sugar and peanut butter for a treat, or eat our Flintstones vitamins straight. One friend’s mother hid her candy dishes when I came over because I would clean them out. I regularly made myself sick at birthday parties by gorging on the candy, punch, cake, etc. When I was old enough to have allowance money, I always spent it on candy at the gas station by school, and then hid the candy in the house (and lied about it).

    I still have problems with self-control and sweets, and I think that the fact that I didn’t have much of an opportunity to learn that self-control as a child is a factor. I would check with the pediatrician, but I’d probably try to increase the sweets for a while so they don’t become a forbidden fruit. Maybe compromise by letting the sweets be healthier (more nutritionally complete) ones like fruit cobbler or carrot cake.

  • a.k.

    March 8, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    We had very limited sweets in our house because my mother was diabetic. I remember clearly coming home from school (ages 7-10ish) and wanting something sweet – anything sweet. Raiding bags of chocolate chips became habit because there was no other sugar in the house.

    I do remember in particular that I stopped foraging after I found something foil-wrapped, like candy, and quickly opened it and popped it in my mouth. It was a bullion cube and I’m pretty sure I got sick immediately upon tasting it.

    I think about this a lot because I think it has led to a weird relationship with sweets as an adult, but I have no other suggestions.

  • susan

    March 8, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    When I read this question earlier today, the punishment really seemed strong to me. If she’s getting tv/movies/sweets withheld for 15 days at age 5, what punishments will be left when she’s older and does probably wilder things? The sneaking and lying aren’t good, that’s for certain, but you need to leave yourself a little room to grow here.
    And I totally remember my brother eating iced tea mix straight out of the jar because it was so sugary good. And eating a ridiculous number of cookies as fast as we could before we got caught.  We’re both in our 30’s now, totally healthy and with good relationships with food. No more silly binges.

  • Anon

    March 8, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    I’m going to suggest that something entirely different might be going on with this child. When I was young, I stole/hoarded/gorged on sweets, too. The reason? I was being sexually abused by a “family friend” and I was too scared to tell my mother.  I realize as an adult that this was one of several acting-out behaviors I engaged in. No one really noticed, except my sister but she was being abused, too. I am not saying that is what is  going on with this particular child, just that it’s a possibility no one else has brought up.

  • Jenn Bo

    March 8, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    I’m currently expecting my first child, so my comments are based on my experience. My mother was a “no sweets” person. Our house had no sugar, no chocolate, no white flour, no sugary cereal, nada. We did have honey & maple syrup. Every child will react differently to a given situation, so my development is different from my brother – who seems to have a healthy dis-interest in sweets. However, I have a huge stash of sweets in my pantry (my nephews LOVE to visit). I eat some, but more often than not the items expire out of date without being eaten. It drives my husband crazy my lovely chocoloates go uneaten. All I can say is I want to have them AVAILABLE. Quirky? Yes. Waste of Money? Yes.
    I second all the comments encouraging teaching children healthy boundaries and not making sweets a forbidden, but rather a managed indulgence.
    As I got older, I definitely stole money from my mother’s coin jar to by sweets at the corner market. Even then, those sweets were stashed and rationed over a long period.

  • L

    March 8, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    I am another former child who did the sneaking sugar out of the bag thing. Sugar was highly restricted in my house for a time and I would gorge myself whenever it was allowed (the occasional ice cream at the zoo etc) and make myself sick. My parents became concerned with my behavior towards sweets in general, sneaking around and then lying. At the recommendation of a psychologist the sugar restriction was lifted and there was cookies after lunch, ice cream after dinner etc. and i stopped sneaking it. My mother said it was an overnight transformation. I do remember feeling such intense cravings, i couldn’t help but be “bad” and sneak it, and then feeling intense shame, so would lie about it.

  • AJ

    March 8, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    So this question kind of freaked me out because it felt very personal to me. I used to sneak sugar like this as a child, and although I didn’t recognize it at the time, I was doing it to change the way I felt. It was my first coping mechanism in life. Later on I became dependent on alcohol until I got sober at 23, but I still struggle and revert back to craving and eating sugar for that instant gratification and comfort.
    I am absolutely NOT implying your daughter will end up with an addictive personality like I did…but I wonder if you could first see her pediatrician, and then maybe seek help through a child counselor, just to get their opinion on this specific issue (maybe there are underlying issues? or then again, maybe this is normal developmental behavior?)

    Don’t feel bad by those who said your punishments were too harsh–you’re doing your best and obviously have your daughter’s best interests at heart if you are seeking and willing to receive outside help or advice.

    Good luck!

  • Sly Fox

    March 8, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    For what it’s worth, I have an almost five year old girl. Ever since I can recall, we have had a candy dish on a table that she could reach, filled with M&Ms, Dove chocolates (her favarite by far!), Smarties, etc. My daughter asks if she can have a piece of candy, and I usually say yes, unless it’s real close to meal time. She helps herself to one (who eats one M&M?!?!) and that’s it. Then there are days that go by that she doesn’t ask for any. I truly think it’s because it’s always present. She LOVES her candy, but has never had a need to sneak it, eat too much for fear of not having any, etc. I have to agree with those that said restricting it can backfire. Sweet things don’t necessarily HAVE to be full of “bad” ingredients. And even if they are, as long as they are kept in moderation, there really shouldn’t be a problem. There are numerous homemade cookie recipes that use nutritious ingredients, for example, instead of buying a bag of store-bought cookies chock full of preservatives, chemicals, etc. Also, I too agree that the punishment doled out for this situation is ( 1 day per cookie and no TV or sweet treat totaling 15 days) seems a bit harsh for a 5 year old. I understand how it makes sense to an adult, but a 5 year old’s level of comprehension and reasoning just doesn’t compare to an adult’s. I think reading up on why preschoolers lie, or talking with an early childhood educator,are great ways to educate ourselves as parents on how to resolve the problem a lot sooner and a lot easier than assuming this age group has the ability to reason/think like older kids or even adults.

  • Julie

    March 9, 2011 at 1:03 am

    This is probably going to sound insane (oh wait, probably because I AM, as in diagnosed LOL), but if the blood tests come back with no clear answers, and you notice any other odd behavior, you might want to have a psych eval done. A lot of people with mental disorders have an uncontrollable craving for carbs of all kinds, most commonly sugary ones. Both my son and I are bipolar, and he hordes sugary and salty foods, and I did so as a child also, and it all started at about this age. I realize that sounds really scary, and I hope that’s not it, but seriously, if the blood tests say nothing, discipline does nothing to slow it, it’s worth looking into. I tried to ignore it in my own child, until after 2 years he tried to hurt himself. Better safe than sorry. And good luck getting to the bottom of the issue.

  • Brita

    March 9, 2011 at 2:09 am

    The first thing I stole as a child was a box of girl scout cookies.  I grew up in a very “all natural-no sweets but homemade” kind of household. We periodically got to buy candy from the local Zip-trip, but pretty much there were no sweets in my house.  I craved them with a capital C.  I remember feeling super guilty and admitting my crime and accepting fair punishment.  I had forgotten horking down these apple cider mix packages and hot chocolate packages to satisfy a sweets craving in my younger days.  As an adult, I enjoy a piece of chocolate a few times a week, have no significant weight/eating issues, and hope that when my 8 month old daughter gets a little older that we can teach her a positive and healthy relationship with food.  I think the way we treat food has a lot to do with control.  

  • dmom

    March 9, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Okay, it seems like I’m the only one about to say this but I think your punishment was way way way to hard!!! It lost all meaning for your daughter. At the age of 5, a 15 day restriction of treats, having to pay for the box, AND no tv/movies in the basement for 15 days, it just doesn’t stick with them that what they did 4 days ago, 8 days, ago, 10 days ago, geez I’m still punished?? 12 days ago, WTF I just ate some cookies, 15 days!!!! That’s over two weeks. The absolute most you should have given to her was 5 days. All you’ve done is teach her to ignore the punishement, serve her time and get on with her life….which you can see in her behaviour of not really learning the lesson you were trying to teach. At this age the best way to teach a stern lesson is to take something away from her. The worse the offence the more valuable that thing needs to be (keep security items like blankets and stuffies off limits) and she needs to earn them back. Let her decide what she can do, you’ll be surprised…my daughter once said she’d do the laundry for me to earn back a barbie! I let her do a load of towels, with supervision of course!
    Anyway, don’t worry to much, just be sure to consistently punish this behaviour in a way that will mean something to her. And really she hasn’t done anything that terrible…I mean the lying is never good but it’s not like it’s something new for five year olds {;o) Good luck!

  • Jennifer

    March 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    I was probably six when I started sneaking sweets. Once puberty hit my weight sky rocketed and I’ve been battling it for the past 21 years. This of course isn’t to say that stealing sweets equals life long weight problems but it is something to keep an eye on.

  • lolismum

    March 9, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I completely disagree with the advice. You can punish for lying, but you should not punish for sneaking food. And 15 days of punishment? Too much for a 5 year old. Here’s my assvice. Do not lock foods away, do not yell, do not punish for sneaking food. When you see her sneaking food, you say to her, “Hi honey, I noticed you ate some of the sugar. If you eat it straight out of the box, you may get a tummy ache/tooth ache etc. Why don’t you tell mommy when you are hungry or want a snack and I’ll give it to you?” Then you take her to the pantry, ask her to choose a treat and then say, “Enjoy it. After we eat dinner/lunch/breakfast, we can come back here and you can choose another treat.” The punishments, the yelling, the hiding will make matters worse. Not only they will fuel her craving, they will make her feel bad about her cravings, which let’s face it, she cannot control.

  • A.N.

    March 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Hmm this is interesting! When i was a kid I would steal cookies out of the cookie jar and try to arrange the remaining ones so the jar still looked full. One thought that occurred to me is that if your daughter has malabsorbtion issues, she might not be getting all the calories/nutrients she needs from food. When I ate a lot of gluten I would always crave more sweets/carbs. Now that I’ve cut it out, I don’t really crave that stuff any more. Now I just eat a lot more cheese 😉 or for your daughter, it could just be SUGAR, YUM! instead 🙂

  • Genevieve

    March 9, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    I find it really interesting that people refer to it as “stealing” food. I understand putting restrictions on food, but really why is there food in the house that doesn’t belong to the child? In our house the food belongs to the whole family, there’s no way to steal food. We don’t have dessert every night and even when we do it’s often something like frozen blueberrys or apple slices dipped in peanut butter and honey, but even when it’s a slice of cake or candy we tend to let our kids have it at the same time as their dinner. By not making sweets into a forbidden food or a big prize the kids apreaciate them, but never gorge or hoard them. We try to talk about growing food and sometimes foods, as a way to guide twards heathy eating.

  • Gina

    March 9, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    As a librarian and avid reader, I want to recommend two books that I’ve personally found really interesting and helpful. They both helped me to look at my own behaviors and how they have an effect on my kids. You sound like you are at your wits end with your daughter’s behavior, perhaps a new perspective can be gained by reading these books, even if you decide part or all of the advice doesn’t work in your situation. The first is about food and eating: How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much, by Ellyn Satter. The second has a very interesting chapter about lying: NurtureShock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman.

  • M.

    March 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Yep, Genevieve, I was thinking the same thing. As a child, it would have been unthinkable to classify raiding the fridge as “stealing”. All food was “our” food. Sure, we were sometimes forbidden to touch the cheesecake before a party but it was still the family cheesecake. And if I did eat anything off-limits because I was hungry or just couldn’t resist, it would have been “Hey, why did you eat Junior’s cookies? He’ll be upset!” and never “Why did you *steal* the cookies?” Big difference.
    And as for paying the parents back for the “stolen” food… seems strange. Maybe if the kid was a tween, and was asked to please buy a new box of cookies, but at five years – the child shouldn’t be required to buy her own treats. JMO.

  • christina

    March 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    I’m with Genevieve. In a family, how can it be “stealing” for a kid to grab some food out of the cupboards between meals? Isn’t it their home, too? As a kid, I would feel really hurt and disenfranchised from the family if my parents had called it “stealing” when I got myself a snack. 
    After all, kids don’t have an income – especially 5-year-olds. So I really don’t understand having them “pay their parents back” for the food. They’re not little housemates. They probably don’t really understand what money is very well yet, or know how much various things are worth (other than “a little” — “a lot”). That’s part of being a kid. Also – how horrible not to have any control at all over your meals or when you eat.
    Sorry, I don’t mean to pile on criticism – I’m sure you’re a concerned and loving parent, and if there was a mistake, well, all parents make mistakes and we can all recover from them, too. It was just a bit shocking for me to see the word “steal” in that context. Maybe reflecting a little bit on the nature of the family bond and the family home might be a helpful thing, though, as well as childhood developmental stages, just to calibrate your responses a little better to where the kid’s at and to be sure they reflect what your own values are.

  • Lisa

    March 9, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    I love the baking idea mentioned above. As a former child sugar “stealer” myself I can remember that the times that I did it, I was generally on my own and bored/lonely. So baking, which will give her some mommy time and help her learn a new skill she can be proud, of is great. It would also help to teach her respect for her “vice” and take away some of the shame she might now feel around her sugar cravings. She can learn that it’s not wrong to enjoy sugar, you just need to “control the fun”, and it can be even more enjoyable when done at the right time in the right way. I still have sugar cravings and the odd entire box of cookies as an adult, but an educated palate (home made fudge vs chemical laden mass produced stuff), making sure I get a good amount of healthy social interaction, and ensuring my diet has enough protein, good fats, and that I’m well hydrated (3 things that really help me cut my cravings) keep things in check.

  • Brittany

    March 9, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    I know a few posters commented on this, but I feel it bears repeating:  that punishment, I believe, is TOTALLY out of line for a 5-year-old.  Sure, I get that you don’t want to create some sociopathic, manipulative little liar.  But, seriously, 15 days of deprivation?!  

    That bolsters my feeling that the approach to discipline and control may reflect an overly strict/forbidden approach to sugar/junk food, (as other posters have also touched on).  Balance, balance, balance!

    I agree w/ Amy’s advice to get some bloodwork done, as that is a legitimate concern.  But even if that’s the problem, I really question the disciplinary actions that were taken.  Just sayin’.

  • Hil

    March 9, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    To commenter Delora above:

    I’m so sorry that you’re struggling with those issues with your son.  Have you or his doctors looked into Prader-Willi Syndrome?  It can lead to kids stealing food.

  • Jasmine

    March 9, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    I don’t want to scare you, but I have been eating pure sugar, unrefined carbs, salt and MSG all my life. I’m 20 and have been trying to stick to a diet with no sugar, carbs or any of the above. It is really hard but it is changing the balance of my neurochemistry. I really needed the sugar and salt … despite being a gifted child I had loads of behavioural problems and ADHD. As an adult I’ve gone through clinical depression, major depression and bipolar … but the diet is keeping a lid on it. Check if your child has any sleeping difficulties as well.

    All I’m saying is that you might want to find out if there are other underlying problems. My parents didn’t fancy sweets and didn’t stock the house with them, but I would eat sugar cubes and lick soy sauce. I had resorted to eating vitamins just for the taste and licking salt too. In my desperation I remember eating lots of cod liver oil because it was orange-sugary flavoured. 

  • Amy

    March 10, 2011 at 9:18 am

    This is the OP. Thank you, Amalah, for answering my plea for help! I appreciate your advice. It did not occur to me that this might be a nutritional thing. I was all set to call the advice nurse at her pediatrician’s office today when this morning I went to roll up my DD’s pant legs (it’s rainy and those pants are a bit too long) and I didn’t need to. In fact they were a little short. Lightbulb! She’s having a growth spurt! That combined with her running around outside more now that the weather is nice, I’m thinking the extremes she’s been going to for sugar are a result of her body needing more calories.

    It makes sense that the lying is a developmental skill. I won’t worry so much about that anymore. It does bother me that she’s getting so good about it though. Drat! I will have to adjust my Mommy Radar.

  • Amy

    March 10, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Thank you all for the insightful comments as well. Just to clarify, sugar is not off limits in our house, just usually reserved for after dinner or after school for a treat rather than available all the time. I wasn’t really worried about the sugar aspect, like Amalah, the obsessiveness concerned me. And the lying.

    Also, the reasons for having such a long punishment are that a) as a Girl Scout she sold those cookies to someone else and then ate them. They didn’t belong to us. It WAS stealing, and b) we’ve tried shorter punishments in the past when she’s filched the odd thing here and there and they don’t sink in. She’ll actually say “I can’t have dessert tonight because I’m being punished for (xyz) but it doesn’t matter because I can have it tomorrow!”

    I talked to DD this morning (the last day of her punishment) and she seems to understand. In the meantime I will hide the treats we have and keep an eye on the baking supplies and hide them if necessary until she’s done with this phase. You have all made me feel better realizing that it seems like EVERYONE does this at some point. It is too much to expect self control from a 5 year old when, as a teenager, my brother once ate 22 Cadbury crème eggs in one day.

    Thank you so much!

  • Life of a Doctor's Wife

    March 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Someone else recommended this, but I’d just like to second reading Nurtureshock. The chapter on lying was very interesting, and offered some useful ideas about how to think about and deal with lying.

    (I’m not a parent, but I found it really eye-opening.)

  • Linda

    March 10, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Agreed. Nutureshock is brilliant reading material.

  • Tracy

    March 11, 2011 at 3:19 am

    This sounds exactly like me as a kid! I distinctly remember climbing up to the very top shelf in the pantry at ages 5, 6, and 7, to eat sugar cubes (the only sweet thing mom kept in the house, for the coffee). Gross! I had no medical problems related to sugar or anything, and had no weight issues either. I remember just craving sugar and thinking, “I’ll just go to the kitchen and eat something sweet while mom and dad aren’t around.” I also lied if they asked about it–even if I was caught red-handed (and I NEVER had issues with lying, either… except about food). If I asked them for sweets, they always said no. My mom was all about healthy food, nothing processed, etc. When I got older my sister and I would buy candy and hide it in the closet. Once, around age 9, I bought a jar of frosting and ate the whole thing in a couple of days. We snuck candy until… well, adulthood. I struggle with this now, because I want my own (infant) daughter to eat super-healthy foods (and our house has been junk food free for years). But how do I do it, when my own parents’ methods failed? Should I just let her be, and hope that she will figure out how to eat healthy as an adult, like I did on my own? Tough questions, with no answers guaranteed to work.

  • Emily

    March 11, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    I used to eat sugar bread. That’s bread covered in white sugar. half an inch atleast. We didn’t have sweets in the house often. I was overcome with my desire for it and I had to have sugar. Jars of marshmallow fluff.. anything I could find. My parents weren’t against sugar, we just didn’t have the disposable income to have treats in the house. Now at 32, my husband and I both have an extreme sweet tooth and we’re both thin (with a little bit of pudge – but a 113lb woman isn’t something to overly worry about). So, clearly you need to do something about this, but I wouldn’t overly worry unless your family already shows unhealthy body and eating habits.

  • Clueless

    March 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

    My comments are a bit late but I just wanted to put in my 2 cents about the lying thing. As a school psychologist I am often asked for help dealing with lying and it is a tough one! The problem with lying is we generally have trouble punishing it cause it’s hard to catch it every time (especially for older kids who are really good at it) which means it is occasionally reinforced. The best tactic I have found is to reinforce more appropriate means of getting what she wants and truth telling. In this case it would mean giving your daughter a treat when ever she asks for one (just for a little while till she learns asking = getting and is a whole lot easier than sneaking and lying). Then eventually making her wait for more appropriate times/eating healthier snacks. For lying you might try (again temporarily) giving her an opportunity to fess up and still avoid punishment….if you tell the truth you won’t get punished…..then eventually phasing back in (more appropriate) punishments. Sounds like you have a pretty smart little girl so she should get it pretty quickly; asking appropriately = receiving and telling the truth = avoiding punishment.