As parents, we all aim to raise our children as best we can. We teach them our values and morals – don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat – and teach them to be loving and kind, and respectful of their elders. We teach them generosity, we teach them compassion and we take great pride in them when they exhibit the values that we’ve taught them.
When children do something that goes against what we’ve taught them, we’re confused and disappointed. Let’s take a look at lying. The first time our child lies to us, it is a shock to our system. Where did they learn to lie? Is this a sign of a chronic or deeper problem? Probably not… but it certainly knocks the wind out of our vision of our perfect child.
Let’s face it, lying in children is normal. Lying in a child who is anywhere between 3 and 5 years old is usually part of the embellishment they add to stories: “I saw Santa come through the window last night” or “You made a pinky promise that I could stay up late!” Be it reality or fiction, our reaction to these stories help our children learn the difference between lying and telling the truth.
Older children will often lie to cover their tracks or get out of doing chores or remove themselves from a situation they would prefer not to be involved in. “I didn’t throw my clothes under the bed” or “I can’t mow the lawn, I’m not feeling good. ” Again, the lies provide teaching opportunities as we gently remind our children that their behavior is not acceptable and discussing their discomfort around the situation that prompted the lie.
Sometimes though, lying can be an indication of a deeper issue or behavioral problem. A child who habitually lies may be crying out for help. Questions to ask yourself when lying moves beyond normal white lies to a regular occurrence: Is my child lying for attention? Or feeling trapped in situations that are uncomfortable (such as difficulty with school work)? Or is my child just lying with no regard to the outcome it will have on others?
Meet the Deer Family:
Sammy is a 7 years old. He lives with his mom, dad, and a 4 month old sister. Recently, Sammy has been caught in situations at school where he was clearly not telling the truth. His teachers have been working with him to understand how lying affects him and the other children in his class. They have also noted a decrease in the quality of his homework and his rate of completion.
Mom and Dad have had several meetings with the school and shared that Sammy has also been increasingly distant at home. He needs much more support to become engaged with the family. They have spoken to Sammy on several occasions and each time, he reassures them that he will do better next time – but the behavior does not change.
Mom and Dad, as well as the teachers at school, have tried to help Sammy understand the impact of his lying. Despite these interventions, Sammy continues his lying.
As the school year progresses Sammy’s school work deteriorates, as does his involvement and interaction with his family at home. Sammy fell into the habit of throwing homework assignments in the trash bin before arriving home. Once the behavior was discovered, Sammy’s parents and school teamed together to resolve the issue. They began by having Sammy’s strengths and learning needs assessed. The testing uncovered several areas where Sammy needed more support. Though he excelled at math and spoke at a level beyond his years, he was struggling with his reading assignments.
Together, Sammy’s parents and teachers designed a program to help build on his strengths and support his learning. Within weeks, his negative behavior ceased. Sammy no longer felt the need to lie or throw his assignments away because he now enjoyed learning and he was feeling successful.
When your child is engaging in lying behavior try the following:
1) Communicate: Have your child clearly understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Also reinforce the difference between a telling lie and speaking the truth.
2) Connect: Have your child connect the behavior to the impact a lie has on others and themselves.
3) Collaborate: With your child to discuss other options to handling uncomfortable situations without resorting to lying.
4) Be Consistent: Remember, children model behavior they see so consistency in adult behavior will shape your child.
Dr. Charles Sophy currently serves as Medical Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which is responsible for the health, safety and welfare of nearly 40,000 foster children. He also has a private psychiatry practice in Beverly Hills, California. Dr. Sophy has lectured extensively and is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California Los Angeles Neuro-Psychiatric Institute. His lectures and teachings are consistently ranked as among the best by those in attendance.
Dr. Charles Sophy, author of the “Keep ‘Em Off My Couch” blog, provides real simple answers for solving life’s biggest problems. He specializes in improving the mental health of children. To contact Dr. Sophy, visit his blog at http://drsophy.com