QUESTION : I have a 9 year old girl who tells lies all the time. Even when caught in the act she will lie. I no longer know when she is telling the truth or lying anymore. Somebody please tell me what is wrong with her? I am worried. How can I get her to stop lying?
ANSWER : Honesty is the best policy. However, everyone lie sometimes and usually, it shouldn’t be cause for alarm especially for young children. However, when children find that lying helps them stay out of trouble or helps them gain attention, it can become a bad habit. It’s important for you to address lying in a straightforward manner that will promote honesty and discourage dishonesty.
It is important to talk about honesty versus lying. Young children often need help understanding what it means to tell the truth. Do make sure that your child has a good understanding of what telling the truth means. Telling the truth versus brutal honesty is another skill that children of all ages can benefit from discussing. For example, kids need to learn that they don’t necessarily need to announce to their friend, “That’s an ugly shirt,” just because it’s honest. Balancing honesty with compassion is a sophisticated social skill. While adults may do this balancing with tact, young children may not.
Six tips for you to work with her.
1. Establish a Rule about Telling the Truth - Create a clear household rule that stresses the importance of everyone telling the truth.
This will ensure that your children understand your expectations and values about honesty.
2. Role Model Honesty - Role model the behaviour you want to see from your child. This means, telling the truth all the time. Children can’t distinguish “little white lies” from other lies. Don’t let your child overhear you tell your friend, “I would love to go but, I have a headache,” if you are feeling fine. Your child will imitate what he watches you do.
3. Distinguish the Reason - There are some reasons kids lie; fantasy, bragging, or to prevent negative consequences. When you distinguish the likely reason for the lie, it can help you develop a plan for responding to it. Fantasy is play acting and pretending. Bragging often deals with getting recognition and acceptance. Often children lie to get out of a negative situation.
4. Give One Warning and Extra Consequence - It can be helpful to give kids one warning when you are fairly confident you caught them in a lie. For example, say, “I’ll give you one more chance to tell me what happened. If I catch you lying, you will receive an extra consequence. Give your child an extra consequence when you catch him lying. For example, instead of just taking away his electronics for the day, give him extra chores to do as well. Take away privileges or use restitution as a consequence for lying.
5. Discuss Natural Consequences with Positive Reinforcement - Talk to your child about the natural consequences of lying. Explain that as a result of his lying, there will likely be times that you won’t be able to believe her, even when he’s telling the truth. Catch your child telling the truth and provide positive reinforcement. Praise her by saying, “I know that must have been hard to tell me that you broke that dish, but I’m so glad that you chose to be honest about it.”
6. Help Your Child Re-Establish Trust - If your child has a bad habit of lying, develop a plan to help him re-establish trust. Consider establishing a behaviour contract that will help you know when she is ready for more privileges based on his willingness to be honest.
There are times when lying can be a big problem for children. If your child’s lying seems to be pathological, or it causes problems for your child at school or with peers, seek professional help to address her lying.
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About Our Expert
Professor Dr. Eric Lim is the founder of Kits4Kids Foundation, a foundation that specializes in the education and development of children with special needs.
He also leads many international social enterprises all around the world. Prof. Dr. Eric Lim holds a PhD in Educational Management as well as Masters of Education, Bachelor of Special Education and Masters of Psychology, focusing on child psychology and counseling.
He is passionate about helping as many people as he could in spreading the love for children and humanity.
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