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Why Children Lie -- and How to Deal with It

Lies come out of children's mouths for a variety of reasons:

  • Fear. When kids are scared of the consequences of their actions, they often lie to cover up. (Are the rules too strict? Are the limits too tight? Does your child feel free to talk with you?)
  • To protect somebody else.
  • Because she is imaginative and the truth is boring.
  • To avoid an unpleasant task. (“Did you brush your teeth?” “Yes, Dad!”)
  • By mistake. Sometimes lies seem almost involuntary, and a lie just slips out, especially if your child gets caught in a misdeed. (“Who broke the antique chair? “I didn't!”) Then, soon enough, it's Sir Walter Scott: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!”
  • For love, for approval, and because kids like to impress people quickly and effectively.

Lie Prevention Techniques (And That's the Truth!)

No, you can't keep your children from lying, but you can make lying a less rewarding activity. Many lies come from self-protection, and you can help by not creating a situation where your kid feels pressured to lie or suffer the consequences.

  • Keep the conversation focused on what happened or what the problem is, rather than casting blame.
  • Don't cross-examine (“After you left school, which route did you take home? And this was at precisely 3:10 p.m.?”), forget the fierce white lights and the sleep deprivation techniques. Remember that the object of talking with your child is to communicate. Grilling will make him close down, not open up, to you.
  • Looking for the positive intent? Lies are a misguided survival technique.
  • Lies are easy to slip into, and even easier to compound themselves, lie upon lie. Many kids slip into lying as painlessly as sliding into warm, tropical ocean water. It's more painful getting out (shiver, shiver).
  • When your kid has misbehaved, don't trap him into a lie, or set him up in a no-win situation. Confronting him with leading questions is more likely to elicit a lie than talking calmly with him about what happened. If Tony comes home with a black eye and you scream at him, “I swear I will kill you if you got into a fight! Did you fight today?” you are putting Tony into a situation where he's either got to lie (“Oh no, I walked into a wall.” “Oh honey, get an ice pack for that”) or face your wrath. A better approach would be, “Oh my! What happened? Let's sit down.”
Behave Yourself!

Grilling is for barbecues, not children.

  • The truth is hard to tell. It's risky to confess (and risk is always hard). If your child confesses a misdeed to you, you need to 1) thank him for the truth, and give him positive reinforcement for his bravery and his sense of ethics, and then 2) deal with the misdeed by applying appropriate consequences. Doing step 2 but not step 1 is as bad a mistake as doing step 1 without step 2. He needs to have positive feedback for telling the truth and he needs consistent consequences. The positive feedback will make the consequence easier to take, and help build his ethical sense.
  • Don't reprimand your child for telling the truth.
  • Before you talk with your kid about a lie he's told, make sure that he did lie. A false accusation, or not believing a child when he is telling the truth, can devastate.


Next: 7 Steps >>
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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