Tuesday, August 7, 2007

When Children Lie

When I first read the following question, I felt so upset about how this mother treated her child. Unfortunately, my upset was followed by remembering times I got into my fear and treated my children very disrespectfully. Isn’t it a wonder that children survive with any feelings of self worth at all???? Hopefully, our messages of love will always be stronger that the craziness we engage in when we come from fear. You’ll get an idea what I mean by reading the following Q & A.


Ok, so I have already flipped out on my 7yr old daughter. She lied to us about another disturbing act of having made up and participated in the "I’ll show you mine if you show me yours". So we were angry that she lied about it saying it was someone else's idea not her own. My husband punished her for 1 week. And I was so angry about the lying not the fact she played that game since I remember doing the same thing at that age. Anyway, we told her we didn't trust her since she has been lying to us and need her to be honest with us with everything and that lying is worse then the bad act itself. She said she understood. Then today she lied 2 times in 1 hr to me about her day at school. She got a warning for talking in class and said everyone else was talking then after I kept questioning her on it she said it was only her. So I said that was a lie. Then she said she got in trouble on the bus but she said she stood up and then sat down. But her brother who rode the bus said she did something different and I questioned her about it further and she said she lied. So I flipped out. I said we hate liars. That she is a liar and all the bad things that I am feeling about her and were wrong to say. What do I do now?

Please help



Start with an apology. Because of your fear that she’ll be a liar for life (and, she isn’t a liar; lying is something she did, not who she is), you have not created a safe place for your daughter to tell the truth. Wouldn’t it be nice if she heard something like, “Honey, do you know that I love you no matter what? I’m sorry you feel the need to lie to me. I wonder what is going on for you. Are you scared you’ll get into trouble, or that I’ll be disappointed in you? Maybe you feel embarrassed about your behavior and haven’t learned that making a mistake doesn’t mean you are a bad person. What could we do to create a safe place for you to tell the truth?”

Following is an excerpt from the book Positive Discipline A-Z, by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott (a book you would find very helpful)

Lying or Fabricating
"I don't know how to get my child to stop lying. We have tried very hard to teach high moral standards. The more I punish him, the more he lies. I'm really worried."

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation
We have searched and searched and can't find a single adult who never told a lie as a child. Actually we can't find many adults who never lie now. Isn't it interesting how upset parents get when children have not mastered a virtue they have not mastered themselves? We do not make this point to justify lying, but to show that children who lie are not defective or immoral. We need to deal with the reasons children lie before we can help them give up their need to lie. Usually children lie for the same reasons adults do--they feel trapped, are scared of punishment or rejection, feel threatened, or just think lying will make things easier for everyone. Often lying is a sign of low self esteem. People think they need to make themselves look better because they don't know they are good enough as they are.

1. Stop asking set-up questions that invite lying. A set-up question is one to which you already know the answer. "Did you clean your room?" Instead say, "I notice you didn't clean your room. Would you like to work on a plan for cleaning it?"
2. A slight variation of saying what you notice is to say what you think. "That sounds like a good story. You have such a good imagination. Tell me more about it."
3. Be honest yourself. Say, "That doesn't sound like the truth to me. Most of us don't tell the truth when we are feeling trapped, scared, or threatened in some way. I wonder how I might be making you feel that it isn't safe to tell the truth? Why don't we take some time off right now? Later I'll be available if you would like to share with me what is going on for you."
4. Focus on solutions to problems instead of blame. "What should we do about getting the chores done?" instead of "Did you do your chores?"
5. Deal with the problem. Suppose your child tells you he hasn't eaten when you know he has. Why would he say he hasn't eaten? Is he still hungry? If he is still hungry, what does it matter if he has eaten or not? Work with him on a solution to deal with his hunger. Does he just want some attention? Deal with his need for attention by working together to find some time you can spend with each other. Does he just want to tell a story? Let him tell a story. Identify it for what it is, "That sounds like a good story. Tell me more."
6. Another possibility is to ignore the "lie" and help your child explore cause and effect through "curiosity" questions. When he says he hasn't eaten all day, ask, "What happened? Anything else? How do you feel about it? What ideas do you have to solve the problem?" These questions can be effective only if you are truly curious about the child's point of view. Do not use these questions to "catch" him in a lie. If at any time you think it is a fabrication, go back to suggestion No. 2.
7. Respect your children's privacy when they don't want to share with you. This eliminates their need to lie to protect their privacy.
Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
1. Help children believe that mistakes are opportunities to learn so they won't believe they are bad and need to cover up their mistakes.
2. Set an example in telling the truth. Share with your children times when it was difficult for you to tell the truth, but you decided it was more important to experience the consequences and keep your self-respect. Be sure this is honest sharing instead of a lecture.
3. Let children know they are unconditionally loved. Many children lie because they are afraid the truth will disappoint their parents.
4. Show appreciation. 'Thank you for telling me the truth. I know that was difficult. I admire the way you are willing to face the consequences, and I know you can handle them and learn from them."
5. Stop trying to control children. Many children lie so they can find out who they are and do what they want to do. At the same time, they are trying to please their parents by making them think they are doing what they are supposed to do while they are doing what they want to do
Life Skills Children Can Learn
Children can learn that it is safe to tell the truth in their family. Even when they forget that, they are reminded with gentleness and love. They can learn that their parents care about their fears and mistaken beliefs and will help them overcome them.

Parenting Pointers
Most of us would lie to protect ourselves from punishment or disapproval. Parents who punish, judge, or lecture increase the chances that their children will lie as a defense mechanism. All of the above suggestions are designed to create a non-threatening environment where children can feel safe to tell the truth.

Many children lie to protect themselves from judgment and criticism because they believe it when adults say they are bad. Of course they want to avoid this kind of pain.

Remember that who your child is now is not who your child will be forever. If your child tells a lie, don't overreact to the behavior by calling her a liar. She is not a "liar", but a person who has told a lie. There is a huge difference.

Focus on building closeness and trust in the relationship instead of on the behavior problem. This is usually the quickest way to diminish the behavior that you find objectionable.

Booster Thoughts
As a four-year-old, Harold was afraid of the dark. His three-year-old sister used to tease him about it and put him down. One night they were staying in a place where they had to cross an outside porch to get to a toilet. The wind was blowing, and the night seemed quite frightening to Harold. Finally his fear of wetting himself overcame his fear of the "journey" to the toilet, so he set out for the other end of the porch. Halfway across the porch he stepped into the light from a streetlight and was startled by his own large, "powerful" shadow.

In Harold's childish mind it dawned on him that if he was large and powerful like his shadow, he would always feel secure. From that point on a life long pattern developed where Harold tried to appear bigger than life in order to feel secure and accepted. When people became annoyed by his fabrications he would feel more insecure and develop another fabrication. Finally someone looked beyond the fabrications to see what they meant to Harold and helped him see that he is much better than any shadow--no matter how large.

Remember the octopus, when threatened, releases an ink cloud bigger than it is to hid and escape behind. A skunk believes that the bigger stink it can create, the safer it will be -- so fabricators have some company in the animal kingdom