When Your Child Lies

By Dr. Susan Bartell

Yesterday, Lynette called me, frustrated and upset:

“My daughter lied to me this morning about brushing her teeth…again! I don’t know what to do about it. Do I yell? Punish? Ignore? I’m worried that if she’s lying now at 8-years old about brushing her teeth, what will she be lying about when she’s fifteen?”

Believe it or not, almost all children tell a lie or two (or more) at some point in their lives. For the most part, kids lie to avoid getting in trouble or to skirt the possibility of your reprimands. Sometimes lies take the form of ‘enhancing’ the truth in order to garner attention from parents or peers.

Despite the fact that lying can be a frequent childhood habit, Lynette is not wrong to be concerned. This is because lying can have two serious negative consequences. First, it can very quickly wear away at your ability to trust your child, and second because it can easily become habitual—which means that you will find that your child is lying more often than he is telling the truth.

There are, therefore, a few simple, yet important steps to take when you catch your child in a lie:

1.Explain to your child that when he lies it makes it very difficult for you to trust him or the things he says. Give him concrete examples of how this could have an impact upon your and his relationship in the future (for e.g. even when he is telling the truth, you will doubt it). If your child’s lies are more of the embellishing the truth kind, remind him that his friends won’t believe his stories if he doesn’t re-tell them accurately.

2.The first time your child lies, or the first time that you have a serious conversation with her about it, tell her that this was her one (or her last) pass. Explain that the next time she tells a lie there will be a consequence that will NOT be pleasant.

3.In order for a consequence to have an impact, it should be meaningful to your child. For example, some kids will never lie again if they know that their electronics will be taken away for a period of time. Others will avoid lying if they know they will have to go to bed early or have no play dates for a week. A consequence should NEVER include spanking, hitting or any other type of corporal punishment—no matter how angry you may be.

4.Once you arrive at the effective consequence, make sure you leverage it at the first sign of lying and stick with it all the way through—no matter how many apologies you receive. Remind your child that you are very disappointed that he lied and that it will be difficult to regain your trust. For many children, your disappointment is even more meaningful than the actual consequence.

5.Once you have issued the consequence and had the discussion, let it go. It is important for your child to feel that there is an opportunity to work on making amends for lying and that you will be forgiving.

6.Examine your own behavior. Do you lie frequently—even small, white lies? If you do, there is a good chance that you are role modeling this behavior for your child. When your child observes you telling lies, it makes him think it is okay for him to lie too. Needless to say, if you want your child to stop lying, you should too!

Dr. Susan Bartell is America’s #1 Family Psychologist. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. You can learn more about her on her website at www.drsusanbartell.com

More Parenting Advice From Dr. Susan Bartell on SMW

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