Question: My 7 year old child keeps telling lies. I have tried both scolding and giving reasons not to lie but it can’t work. What else can I do?
Answer: Scolding and lecturing only work temporarily. If you want to ensure that your child learns to be an honest human being we first have play “detective”. This detective will need to identify the reason a.k.a. trigger for your child’s habitual lying. Behaviour, in children especially, is a form of communication.
So ask yourself – What is your child trying to tell/show you by lying to you? It may be that your child is trying to avoid punishment, or he may trying to gain a sense of control over his environment, protect someone or he may be lying to get your sole attention as he knows that you will spend time punishing or lecturing him. Some studies have also found that children lie because they have seen their parents engaging in white lies to in-laws, telemarketers, etc., and then copy them.
Before we move onto the “action plan” phase, you need to accept that generally, lying is normal among children and often developmentally appropriate. Although, most children lie one time or another, it is best to address this behaviour because if you don’t a likelihood that your child will grow “into lying habits” exists.
A helpful action plan to teach your child that lying is not acceptable follows:
- Model truthful behavior. Catch yourself before you tell a white lie to your friend, relatives or a salesperson (e.g., “Im sorry I am terribly sick” in order to avoid catching up with an irritating acquaintance) in front of your child.
- Once you have identified the trigger for lying, i.e. lying to boost his self-esteem, help your child come up with a better solution. You could enroll your child in an activity he does very well in to boost his confidence for example.
- Make sure you do not reward your child for lying. You may not even know that you are doing so. Your child may lie to get something he wants – ensure you check the facts before giving into his wants.
- Don’t shame children. Don’t shame your child when he makes mistakes or doesn’t do well at school. This will only teach him to lie to avoid being shamed or feeling guilty.
- Reward truthfulness. Say “Wow – I know that must have been hard to tell me. I am very proud of you that you told the truth”.
- Catch your children’s lie in a matter of fact tone (do not punish). Say something like “Oops, I’m not sure that is the real story” or “hmmm, do you want to think about that again and tell me what really happened?”.
- Give your child a chance to tell you the truth. By giving him this chance he will also begin to learn that telling the truth will not get him in trouble, which will therefore decrease his lying.
Therefore, remember, if you want your child to change his behavior, it is important that you also change your responses to him. Once he feels comfortable to tell the truth, his bad habit of lying will decrease significantly.
Dr Vanessa von Auer
MA (Counseling), B.A. Psychology (hons.), EMDR
Dr Vanessa von Auer is the Clinic Director/Psychologist of Von Auer Psychology Centre VAPC. She has spent her career helping parents learn effective parenting strategies, has helped children process their emotional difficulties in healthy ways and has helped families grower closer in their dynamics with one another. For more information, visit www.vapc.sg