One of the most common questions I get from parents is, “How do I stop my child from lying?” I am not talking about the occasional lies told by most children. I am talking about the crazy lying…I had cereal for breakfast, when actually I had toast… and the habitual lying that occurs many times a day, every day.
This type of lying is typical of severely oppositional children and children with severe abuse and neglect or other types of early childhood trauma. While the reason they lie may vary form child to child, it is a safe bet to assume with this population of children that the lying comes from a place of fear and anxiety. It almost as if they can prove that you are incompetent by pulling one over on you, then they are justified in needing to stay in control of every aspect of their own life rather than trust their parents to care for them.
IF that is the case, then let me suggest two hard and fast rules necessary to help your child overcome the compulsive need to lie.
- NEVER ask a question that you do not know the answer to. Better to stay silent. Never ask, “who broke this glass” if you don’t know.
- Never respond in anger. Often the reason for the lie to to get a response. If you respond in anger it reinforces the behavior.
- Assume that every thing the child says is a lie. If something sounds fishy, just say, “You and I both know that is not true, and I am not going to do anything about that right now, I just wanted you to be aware that I know that is not the truth.” Then disengage, don’t argue, don’t respond to their, ” but it really is true” comments.
Both these rules lay the foundation for lasting change. Its ok that “justice” is not done in every lying circumstance so we don’t need to punish every instance of lying. Real justice will be that your child heals to the point that lying is no longer necessary. By following these 2 easy rules, we can prevent the child from reoffending often, which slows the healing process, and help them to learn that you are smart and powerful enough to be trusted.
Check back for part two of this article in which we will take a look at some fun ways to continue breaking the lying habit.