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Four Tips To Handle A Child Who Lies
As parents, we all aim to raise our children as best as possible. We teach them our values and morals – don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat – and teach them to be loving and kind, and respectful of their elders. We teach them generosity, we teach them compassion and we are very proud of them when they display the values we have taught them.
When children do something that goes against what we have taught them, we are confused and disappointed. Let’s look at a lie. The first time our child lies to us, it is a shock to our system. Where did they learn to lie? Is this a sign of a chronic or deeper problem? Probably not… but it sure does knock the wind out of our vision of our perfect child.
Let’s face it, lying in children is normal. Lying in a child who is anywhere between 3 and 5 years old is usually part of the embellishment they add to stories: “I saw Santa come through the window last night” or “You made a pink promise so I could stay awake!” Whether it’s reality or fiction, our reaction to these stories helps our children learn the difference between lying and telling the truth.
Older children often lie to cover their tracks or get out of chores or remove themselves from a situation they would rather not be involved in. “I didn’t throw my clothes under the bed” or “I can’t mow the lawn, I’m not feeling well.” Again, the lies provide teaching opportunities as we gently remind our children that their behavior is not acceptable and discuss their discomfort around the situation that prompted the lie.
Sometimes, however, lying can be an indication of a deeper issue or behavioral problem. A child who habitually lies may cry for help. Questions to ask yourself when lying moves beyond normal white lies to regular occurrence: Is my child lying for attention? Or feel trapped in uncomfortable situations (such as difficulty with school work)? Or does my child just lie without regard to the result it will have on others?
Meet the Deer Family:
Sammy is 7 years old. He lives with his mom, dad, and 4-month-old sister. Recently, Sammy has been caught in situations at school where he clearly hasn’t been telling the truth. His teachers worked with him to understand how lying affects him and the other children in his class. They also noted a decrease in the quality of his homework and his rate of completion.
Mom and Dad had several meetings with the school and shared that Sammy was also increasingly distant from home. He needs a lot more support to engage with the family. They have spoken to Sammy several times and each time, he reassures them that he will do better next time – but the behavior does not change.
Mom and Dad, as well as the teachers at school, tried to help Sammy understand the impact of his lying. Despite these interventions, Sammy continues his lie.
As the school year progresses Sammy’s school work deteriorates, as does his involvement and interaction with his family at home. Sammy used to throw homework in the bin before arriving home. After the behavior was discovered, Sammy’s parents and school came together to solve the problem. They began by having Sammy’s strengths and learning needs assessed. The testing uncovered several areas where Sammy needed more support. Although he excelled in math and spoke at a level beyond his years, he struggled with his reading assignments.
Together, Sammy’s parents and teachers designed a program to help build on his strengths and support his learning. Within weeks, his negative behavior stopped. Sammy no longer felt the need to lie or throw away his assignments because he now enjoyed learning and he felt successful.
When your child engages in lying behavior, try the following:
1) Communicate: Have your child clearly understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Also reinforce the difference between telling a lie and telling the truth.
2) Connect: Have your child connect the behavior to the effect of lying on others and himself.
3) Collaborate: Discuss with your child other options for dealing with uncomfortable situations without resorting to lying.
4) Be Consistent: Remember that children model behavior they see, so consistency in adult behavior will shape your child.
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