Helping Children Who Have
a Problem With Lying
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Honesty is the basis for any relationship because it
develops trust and upon that foundation simple things like communication
and responsibility rest. When a child lies, that trust is broken and
relationships suffer. Parents often don't know how to handle dishonesty
and common discipline techniques don't quite address the problem. A more
comprehensive plan is usually necessary since dishonesty often has several
components. Here are some ways to deal with it.
1. Talk about reality and truth and how they are different
from fantasy, wishes, possibility, pretend, and make believe. Require that
children use cues to identify anything other than reality. Here are some
"I think it happened this way," "I think this is the answer,"
"I'm not sure..." "Maybe..." (possibility)
"I wish this were true," "I'd like it if..." (wish)
"I'd like to tell you a story..." "I can imagine what it would
be like to..." (fantasy)
2. Use the Bible verse Proverbs 30:32 to teach children to
stop talking in the middle of a speaking mistake. When you sense a child
is beginning to stray from the truth, stop them. "I want you to stop
talking for a minute." Sometimes children just get started and can't
stop. Parents can help teach them. "Think for a minute and then start
again. I'd like to hear the things you know separated from the things
you think." "Start again and tell me how it really happened. Just the
parts you are sure of."
3. If a child has ADHD or is impulsive, use a
plan for self discipline. Sometimes children who are impulsive blurt
out things without thinking. Other times they start talking and don't
know how to stop. This impulsivity component can lead to dishonesty
because of a lack of self-control. It's not always malicious lying, but
it's still not good and shouldn't be excused because the problem often
gets worse. Even though children may have poor impulse control, they must
learn to tell the truth. The route, though, may contain more self
discipline training than some of the other suggestions.
4. A courtesy generally given in relationships is called,
"the benefit of the doubt." When a child has developed a pattern of
lying we don't automatically give that courtesy. Believing someone
requires trust and it's a privilege which is earned. Privilege and
responsibility go together and when a child is irresponsible then
privileges are taken away. For a time, the things your child says are
suspect. You may even question something that is found to be true later. A
child may be hurt by this, but that hurt is the natural consequence of
mistrust which in turn comes from lying. Being believed is a privilege
earned when children are responsible in telling the truth on a regular
basis. Not believing your child may seem mean but your child must learn
that people who don't tell the truth can't be trusted. Tell your child
that you would like to believe him or her but you cannot until he or she
earns that privilege.
5. Some situations won't be clear and some children will
deliberately lie to avoid punishment. You find yourself in a predicament
because proof seems impossible yet you have a sense that this child is not
telling the truth. When possible, don't choose that battleground. It's
too sticky and you will usually have other clearer opportunities later.
Children who have a problem with lying, demonstrate it often. Choose the
clearer battles and use those situations to discipline firmly. Use Taking
a Break and the Positive Conclusion and maybe other
consequences if necessary.
6. Confrontation should result in repentance. This may seem
unrealistic at first but keep it in mind as your goal.
children who are confronted with the fact that they are telling a
lie should immediately agree and apologize. A child who is defensive is
relying on arguing and justifying as manipulative techniques in order to
avoid taking responsibility. This is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.
Use Taking a Break to motivate the child to repentance.
7. You may, for an introductory period of time, in order to
motivate repentance when confronted, withhold further discipline if a
child responds properly to correction. "If you can admit it was a lie
and that you were wrong when I confront you, I will not further discipline
you for that lie." This is a temporary approach to teach a proper
response to correction.
Be proactive in teaching about honesty. Tell stories from your life or
read stories like:
Emperor's New Clothes
Boy who Cried Wolf
and Sapphira from the Bible
There are several good books at your local library on this
subject which are written for children and are well illustrated to capture
9. Give an outlet for creative writing or storytelling to
further emphasize the difference between fantasy and reality and a proper
use of fantasy.
10. Memorize Bible verses dealing with honesty since the Scriptures is a
way to appeal to a child's conscience.
These suggestions will go a long way toward helping
a child tell the truth. Don't let this problem go. It only gets
worse. Continual, persistent work will pay off in the end. Other
helpful ideas can be found in the book, Good
and Angry, Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your
Kids, by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN.