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What to do About a Child Who Lies

Every child lies, just as every adult lies. These might be difficult truths to accept, but if you search your own past and examine your actions honestly, you will no doubt find that there have been many situations where you found it useful to lie. Children are no different, except that they are often poor liars and tend to do it even when there is little chance they will get away with it. There are many reasons that they do this, but the most important thing parents need to know is that they are far from alone, which means there are plenty of proven solutions to stop a child’s lying.

What lying means
Your child’s lying does not mean that you are a bad parent or that you have a problem child. Again, every child does it at one time or another—though some do it to a greater degree than others. Those who do it more become that way because experience shows that they can get away with it or that the consequences are minimal.

While it is true that parents have to be at least partially complicit in a child’s habitual lying, do not be too hard on yourself. You want what is best for your child, and this can sometimes mean slipping into overpermissiveness, especially when you wish to keep the peace in the household.

The good news is that there is no evidence showing that a lying child grows up to be an adult who tends to lie more than anyone else. Nor is it a signal of immorality or poor character. It is simply a bad habit.

Stopping the habit
To understand how to stop the lying habit, you must also understand why it happens. The main reason is that the child does not want to get in trouble. Remember, children need positive validation from their parents and do not like to let us down. So when a child has failed to do a chore, for example, the tendency is to try to please the parents by pretending to have done the chore. It is illogical—after all, it is easy enough for parents to see whether a chore has been completed—but children rarely think these things through in the moment.

So one of the most effective ways to reduce your child’s lying is to take away the opportunity to lie. For instance, instead of asking, “Did you clean your room?” you can say, “I noticed your room has not been cleaned. When do you plan to do it?” Or you can simply ask why the room has not been cleaned. Of course, the child may lie about the reasons, but this at least addresses the main subject at hand.

While setting your child up for success can have great benefits, stopping lying still comes down to setting rules, watching closely, and imposing punishment on a consistent basis. This is one area where laying down the law as a parent is essential. When you make exceptions or let instances of lying pass unremarked upon, you send the implicit message that they can get away with it. This situation can quickly get out of hand as the child becomes not only comfortable with lying but good at it. So even though punishment can hurt parents as much as children, do not let your child’s lying go unpunished.

By Marc Courtiol

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