My child's lying is driving me crazy! We never know when he is telling the truth.
What can we do?
All children lie occasionally, to be socially accepted or because they fear the
consequences of telling the truth. Some children lie as a way of life. There are several
reasons for chronic lying: it prevents closeness, inflates low self-esteem, creates an
avenue for power and control, and maintains a habit.
Lying harms relationships. Parents who are lied to feel betrayed, angry, hurt, and
disappointed. Many parents feel totally defiled by their child's lies. Wounded children
believe that closeness leads to pain and rejection and must be avoided. What better way
to distance yourself from the possibility of intimacy than to push away the ones that love
Chronic liars do not feel good about themselves, and therefore try to boost their
self-image by exaggerating their abilities and accomplishments. They also make up stories
to gain sympathy or provoke an emotional reaction. They often lie for no apparent reason,
even if the truth would serve them better. This provides a sense of excitement and a
feeling of having the "upper hand." They perceive others as pawns to be manipulated and
receive satisfaction in the fact that "I know the truth and you don't." Lying is easy
when one lacks the morality necessary to feel bad about being deceptive or hurting someone
else. Often there is no remorse about lying, only for getting caught.
Pathological liars are addicted to lying; it becomes habitual. Many of their social
interactions revolve around lies rather than the truth. These children will often hold
onto a lie, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Their deception
is intentional and premeditated. Sometimes they may tease you with a little taste of
the truth and then lie at strategic times when it serves them.
How do you figure out if your child is telling the truth? You don't! It's way too much
work for the average parent to become a lie expert. This is where the
"whose-problem-is-whose" rule comes into effect. If you make it your job to figure out
the truth then it becomes your problem. If your child lies 6 times out of 10, and tells
the truth 4 times, how do you know which one this is? Lying should be your child's
problem, not yours. The natural consequence for someone who lies is that they are not
believed, even if they are telling the truth. They don't get the privileges that go
along with earned trust.
The first step in solving any problem is "owning" it. If your child doesn't feel the
consequences of the problem, he will never take responsibility for solving it:
Child: "I am telling you the truth! Why don't you believe me?"
Parent: "Honey, who lies a lot?"
Child: "I do, but I'm not lying now."
Parent: "Well, if it turns out that you are telling the truth, I will be the first to
Lecturing or punishing will do nothing to stop constant lying. It's much more productive
to diminish the advantages your child gets from lying - take away the pay-offs. If you
don't believe your child, and don't respond with anger and negativity, you will be in
control in a positive way and gain your child's respect.
You can say to your child, "When you consistently tell the truth over time, I'll be sure
to give you more chances to earn my trust." Even when trying, habitual liars will "slip."
Offer him a way out with the "whoops" rule. You can encourage your child to say "whoops"
as the lie leaves his lips. For example: "Whoops, that wasn't the truth; this is what
really happened." "Thanks for catching yourself. Good job."
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