Most children give lying a try at least once. It is natural for a child to test his or her limits.
A parent becomes concerned when their child is lying consistently, or without guilt, or about things that are disrupting his or her life.
If you want to break the lying habit, make use of these insights and tips. They apply to children of all ages. You’ll understand your child more fully and you’ll feel more confident about addressing the problem before it gets worse.
Why Your Child is Lying
Before digging any deeper, let’s take a look at some of the basics within your unique situation.Think about when the lying started. There may have been a precipitating event that brought upon the lying habit. If a situation or event is left misunderstood or unresolved, it could be causing distress or confusion for your child.
Don’t worry if it seems unclear how or why the lying began. There are more complex reasons that may explain why your chid is lying, and I can provide a simple explanation.
A habit of lying is often connected to one or two of these two core human emotions: Shame and Fear.
Shame is involved if a child feels that when he does something wrong or bad then he himself is inherently wrong or bad. In order to protect himself from the shame of a mistake, a lie comes to the rescue. It’s a defense that becomes overactive because in that brief moment the feeling of shame seems so much worse than a perceived consequence.
This overprotective defense can also come up if your child feels misunderstood or less important. As an example, imagine the child that is always in trouble at school and how frustrating it is to be blamed and asked to apologize without feeling heard (or when he or she doesn’t understand why). If a child feels that her position isn’t recognized, it’s hard for her to believe that the truth will be heard even if she tells it.
Fear of consequences: Logically, we know that lying will ultimately increase the consequence. In the moment, however, it’s very tempting to avoid the consequence at all costs. This can quickly become a habit, and it can take time to help your child stop this knee-jerk reaction.
Creating greater or more elaborate consequences for a lie may seem like the best solution, but if your child’s fear of consequences are causing the lie, that would only make things worse. Fear creates a lack of connection, and if your child experiences you as angry or intimidating, it will deplete your child’s confidence and reduce any incentive to tell the truth in the future. Your child needs to feel like you’re a safe place to share and problem solve.
Other common explanations:
Testing the boundaries: Your child may be lying to see what will happen. It may be about testing you to get what he or she wants, or it may just be testing to see if you pay attention. If your child feels that attention from you is lacking, it is a natural reaction to test it. As I mentioned earlier, testing limits is a normal part of development, so you may be able to identify an age-appropriate lesson to assist your child with.
Seeking attention: Lying often comes in the form of an elaborate story. Sometimes when a child is lying via story-telling, others are stumped wondering why the child felt it necessary to make up a big story. If a child needs attention, even negative attention seems better than no attention. Rather than ignoring an attention-seeking child, find appropriate ways to give attention. A solution for this is within #5 below.
How to Make The Lying Stop
1. Create connection: Make eye contact. Be kind and curious. Let go of the desire to intimidate your child (or to beg your child) to stop lying. Come from a place of acceptance. If your child feels connected to you, he or she will be calmer in future situations and be able to think more clearly, thus being more likely to chose a truthful answer even if there is risk of a consequence.
2. Focus on reward, not punishment. Recall that if your child is lying out of fear of consequences, increasing the consequences may also increase the fear. Be sure that you’re not only rewarding good behavior, but that you’re also rewarding honest mistakes when your child owns up to them and participates in a solution with you.
3. Stop sabotaging your own efforts. The quickest way to break your connection with your child is lecturing and/or yelling. You will engage a primitive part of your child’s brain that will not allow your child to take in anything you say in a constructive way. Practice self-control and it will be worth it in the long run.
4. Model admitting your mistakes. In #2, I mentioned collaborating. It’s your job to lead the way to that. If you make a mistake, be honest about it. Apologize for your actions and show your child that things can move forward without disaster.
5. Encourage and redirect the creativity. Sometimes they come up with some pretty elaborate ones, don’t they? Rather than punishing the imagination, confront the lie by commending the creativity. Teach your child the difference between a story and the truth with a fun game, and reward the creativity, not the lie.
~ ~ ~
Don’t hesitate to seek help if your child’s lying is impacting your lives and relationship. Your child may be experiencing difficulties that he or she does not have the ability to understand or express, and a mental health professional can assist you in repairing the connection with your child as you create new, healthy habits.
Contact me to get personal feedback to determine what solutions are best for you and your child.