TALL TALES: The truth about your child's lies

Most children tell lies from time to time, especially after entering grade school. Lying is a learned form of communication. Children are inherently honest so it is only after noticing someone else telling tales that they begin to understand that lying is another way to communicate. Children often learn to lie from other children. It doesn't take long before they realize that lying is a way to avoid responsibility for unacceptable behavior. Children who develop a habit of lying have generally learned dishonesty from their parents. When children begin to comprehend language they listen to everything their parents say as they attempt to understand the complexities of communication. If they hear their parents saying things that are not truthful they learn that lying is moral and acceptable.

My grandmother would on many ocassions have me to tell our waitress or waiter that I was 11 in order to pay the kids price for menu items. I was 11 for about three years until my development could no longer support the lie. In another instance, she would take me shopping with her and often times tell me not to let my father know when she had extra money. Then she would tell my father that she was "broke" and needed some cash. She called it the "secret game" and I usually got a nice treat out of the deal. When confronted about the root of a child's lying, it doesn't take long before the parents begin to see that the greater problem is theirs. Seeing the truth, that they are responsible for their child's disregard for the truth, is a hard pill to swallow, but acknowledging your own dishonesty is necessary if you are to succeed at changing your child's behavior.

The next step is to talk honestly with your child about your own dishonest habits. Confession is cleansing and it allows the child to see that it is possible and preferable to stop lying. Change can become a family goal.

Next it is imperative that the parent actively look for positive communications from the child. Sometimes a parent has developed a habit of seeing only bad behavior in a particular child, making it difficult to see the good behaviors. But if permanent change is to take place the child needs to experience praise and acknowledgment for appropriate behaviors. Just as they had to learn the inappropriate behavior, they now have to be shown what constitutes acceptable behavior.

Last but not least, it is important not only to address the child's lie, but to address what they are lying about. If the lie is about feeding the dog their green beans, it is important to address the underlying reason for not wanting to eat the green beans. Perhaps they were cold and yucky or maybe the child feared being punished. Help the child ease their initial distress, then help them feel safe.

Karen Hoo