A Different Approach with Your Lying Child

Few behaviors want to make a parent’s head explode more than lying. The very concept of a child standing before you faced with your inquisition, while they simultaneously and unapologetically lie without ceasing, is an affront to our common sense of social decency. So, what do you do? You’ve tried it all. You have threatened, yelled, cajoled, you’ve taken away the PlayStation for the 14th time this month, their iPhone now permanently resides in your pocket, yet still…they lie.

Well, let me first assure you that if you have a child with a proclivity towards lying they are not necessarily destined for an orange jumpsuit.

Lying is commonly a simple survival tactic that our kids will utilize in an effort to avoid a negative engagement. Their experiences have taught them – when you mess something up, avoid taking responsibility at all costs, because if you do, something will happen to you. It is no wonder they often will instinctively and reflexively lie in an attempt at self-preservation.  Due to the immaturity level of our kids they don’t necessarily have that capacity to pause, really think through the situation and be vulnerable enough to admit truth.

So, understanding that, let me give you a couple of tips: First, stop asking questions. If you have a child with a proclivity towards lying, stop phrasing things in the form of a question. For example, if your child has just poured themselves a cup of milk and you notice there is now spilled milk all over the counter, instead of saying something to effect of, “Why did you make such a mess?” or “Why didn’t you clean up that milk after you were done?” which inevitably will provoke a denial from your child; instead try phrasing things in the form of a statement like, “Hey, sweet girl, I need you to grab that rag for me really quick and clean up that milk, thanks for your help!”

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When your child then comes back at you with, “But it wasn’t my mess!” or “It wasn’t me!” you can respond with an assurance that you are not looking to blame, you are simply looking to address the issue at hand. “No worries, it doesn’t matter who it was, I just appreciate your help,” and move on with your day.

Second, since we understand that lying can oftentimes be reflexive – meaning your child hasn’t really processed the entirety of the conversation or the question you are asking – you can give them an option for an “out”. “Dude, I’m not sure that’s what really happened. Can you try that again for me?” or “Let’s come back around to this later; I would love to know what really happened.” Effectively, when you give them an option for a do-over it prompts them to come out of that survival portion of their brain and re-engage with their frontal cortex, which will allow them to respond much more appropriately to your question.

Overall, understand that lying is a common childhood behavior that in no way will define the complete trajectory of a child’s life. Breathe, and remind yourself that your child is in a learning process called childhood. As we love, teach, train, disciple, serve and care for them in every little day to day engagement, we are effectively coloring who they grow up to be…so keep your eye on the long game.  You got this!

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Sonia Martin
Author: Sonia Martin

Sonia is a licensed social worker and holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Social Work. Her clinical focus is on helping parents and professionals understand the role of the brain in behavior and how to adopt therapeutic parenting techniques to mitigate negative behaviors. She is the Director of Central Alabama for Lifeline Children’s Services and is a mother to 7 sons, 3 of which were internationally adopted and she is a foster parent.

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Your Lying Child

by Sonia Martin time to read: 4 min