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Why would children lie?


Spanking Makes Children Lie

Two other girls, one homeschooled, one not, were talking with her about methods of punishment at their houses. Holly said she was never grounded, and not spanked. The third girl, friend-of-friend, expressed amazement. "Even if you lie?"

"I don't lie to my mom."

"But if you don't get spanked, you could lie all the time!"

MORE and more about parenting peacefully
Marji/Gaiawolf responding to a mom concerned about her daughters mistruths. Marji in black, anonamom in color:

         She said she lied so she wouldn't get into trouble.

Well, that's an excellent, rational, and understandable reason for lying. Try to see it this way: when someone lies to someone else, it's because the person doing the lying actually does not trust the person being lied to. In other words, your daughter felt she had to lie because *she* does not completely trust *you*. It's a vicious cycle! ;-)

The other basic, fundamental truth is that you cannot change or control her; you can only control yourself. If she doesn't trust you, you have to take a look at yourself and find out why. If you really want to trust her, you have to find out why she feels she can't trust you. (But, you can't ask her, 'cause she'll likely say, "I don't know." This is work you'll have to do within.)

I would be upset, too, if I found out that my son was lying to me, but not because I would see it as a flaw in his nature. I would wonder why he felt he couldn't trust me enough to confide in me, and I would work on myself to fix that problem. Also, I would not just tell him he's wrong and that he *can* trust me, because, as you know, talk is cheap. I would really search for what gave him the clues that he couldn't trust me and work on fixing those things about myself.

See what happens if I re-work these sentences, and see how you feel about them:

         I want to be able to trust her.

"I want her to be able to trust me."

         The lying is one thing I need to address and figure out how to deal with. I don't want to doubt everything she says.

"The lying is one thing I need to address and figure out how to deal with. I don't want *her* to doubt everything *I* say."

"I just lost it- " " My husband was very upset." "...am not big on "punishments" or "grounding" or whatever- I have always just talked it out. The last few weeks have been challenging to me. I have lost my temper on more than one occasion. It seems to stem around my daughter who has started lying to us- about important things. Last week I was angrier than I have ever been."
These snippets are all good reasons for her to lie to you. You aren't trustworthy in her eyes. You may think you are, but she is letting you know loud and clear that you are not.

She's nine now, and you and she are going to be entering some pretty fast, white water in the next several years. Wouldn't you rather that she trust you enough not to feel like she'll have to lie to you about the really big stuff that she's going to be facing?

I am not writing all this to attack you or criticize you (I don't know you at all, so I make absolutely no judgments on your parenting, I only know what you're telling us). I am only wanting to help you see the situation from a very different perspective. I hope you can receive this information in the spirit it is intended. I really hope it's helpful to you!

Warmly,
Marji
GaiaWolf


Sandra Dodd, responding to the boldface comments, on the Always Learning list:
How do you deal with kids who lie? I would really like to hear from other parents about this. Not your own kids--but your kids' friends. My kids have some friends who lie so consistently that the boys no longer believe what their friends say, and I have gotten skittish about saying things to the parents like, "So, little Octavian says you're going to Las Vegas next week!" because such things have so often turned out not to be true. I'm struggling with how to respond to the children, and also with how to talk to my kids about this.
I wouldn't make chit-chat with the parents that could get the kid in trouble.

Depending on the age, it might be something he'll grow out of.

Don't struggle. Be matter-of-fact, and kind and compassionate.

Or my kids mention an upcoming trip, and the friend tells a big story about the much bigger and better vacation he and his family are taking soon.
I would recommend that my children not brag to the boy, if he's feeling sad that he doesn't have cool stuff to report. They can play with him without getting into reciting what they have that he doesn't, maybe, especially if he's likely to cover over with bravado or bluff. Maybe the kindest thing your own children could do would be to say nice things to and about the boy. Maybe he doesn't get enough of that. Maybe he needs to hear that some of the things he knows and can do are cool and impressive.

When Marty was seven or eight he went through a season of saying things that weren't true. I said various things but one was "Do you wish that would happen, you mean?" and gave him a chance to rephrase. Sometimes once he started the story he didn't know how to get back out of it. I reminded him a few times how important it was to be trustworthy, and somehow he moved out of that into being very truthful. We coached him gently.

The boys have caught on to it to the point that they will say to me or David, "Octavian says he used to have a lot of really cool Legos, too, but he gave them away, but I'm not sure that's true." What do I tell the boys? Do I talk to them about the factors (like, in one case, economic disparity between homes) that might lead a child to lie like this?
Gently and in simple terms, maybe, yes. Be careful not to give them things that they might repeat to the boy that would hurt his feelings worse.
Do I counsel them to ignore lies because of the motives I think lie behind them, or to confront them?
Neither. I would help them think of ways to pass on by the situations without attaching to them. If he says "I used to have a dog like that," your kid could say "Those dogs are pretty," not "What was his name, then?" or "what happened to him?" or "I bet you didn't." Neither entrapment nor argument will help the boy. Maybe just diverting the stories into other topics, kind of changing the subject or saying something that is simple and doesn't say "HOW COOL!" or "REALLY?" would be better than either buying into the lie or calling it a lie.

Saving face for the guest might be the boys' goal.

If it were me, I would talk to the other-family kid one-on-one somehow, casually if possible, and say it's important to only say what REALLY happened. It can be something that short. Or if a longer talk is better, maybe: "When you tell a story, it's better to say 'I wish' or 'wouldn't it be cool if...' than to say it as if it were true. And be careful with the truth."

Dealing with Kids who Lie, on Always Learning, June 2010

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