When Children Lie
One of the perpetual problems that many parents face is lying by their children. Parents will often personalize this problem and view it as a sign that their children lack respect for them. Parents may also believe that their parental authority is being undermined when their children distort the truth.
It is important that parents recognize that all behavior is purposeful, even the habit of lying. Some lying is a common feature of the human experience. Rather than focus on the specific lies told by their children and the implications of those lies, parents would be well-served in trying to understand the purposes underlying their children's need to distort the truth.
When parents confront their children about their pattern of lying, they may inadvertently make the problem worse. Parents may unintentionally promote a power-struggle and cause their children to actually become more deceptive about their behavior.
I believe that parents need to rethink their perspective for dealing with their children when they lie. I recommend that parents never use the word lying in front of their kids. Use of the word lie sets up an adversarial dynamic. It is preferable to use phrases such as "you need to be more up-front with me" or "you need to be honest with me". This relaxes the encounter and makes it more likely that you will get to the bottom of the situation.
Often children will lie if they feel intimidated or feel excessive pressure from a parent. For example, a child may be afraid of harsh, punitive treatment as a consequence for poor grades. Talking with your child on an on-going basis about the nature and quality of his work, rather than focusing on assessment is helpful in promoting more truthfulness.
Children may embellish stories and lie to their friends if they lack self-confidence and proper social skills. Children may feel the need to gain approval from their peers. If you are aware that your child is fabricating information, explore the issue with gentleness or seek professional counseling assistance if necessary.
Adolescence may be the most difficult developmental period for dealing with lying. Children, during the teen years, are looking for ways to separate from their parents through experimentation, concealing information, and acting guarded around their parents. Try to keep the lines of communications open. Set appropriate boundaries and limits. Monitor you children closely for substance abuse, and other acting-out behaviors. Never accept excuses for inappropriate behavior. Set logical consequences and stick to them. By setting these parameters, parents can reduce the opportunity for their teenagers to engage in lying.
Some guidelines for parents to cope with children who conceal the truth are:
- All behavior is purposeful, even lying. Lying is not always intentional deceit and may be aimed at getting attention from parents or manipulating a situation.
- All children will lie on occasion. It is inevitable. Remember your childhood?
- Reframe the word lying. Use terminology that means the same, but softens the conflict.
- Children may be embarrassed or sensitive about telling the truth. Acknowledge those feelings with them, but insist on knowing the truth.
- When children tell the truth, reinforce their positive behavior.
- Never set-up your child by being aware of a lie and then asking him for the truth without discussing that you have information. Acknowledge up-front that you know what's going on.
- Monitor your children's behavior (without over-involvement) to see if you notice any red-flags.
- Stay out of power-struggles with teens over deception. If you know they are being untruthful, merely acknowledge it and set reasonable, logical consequences.
- Never make the issue of deception the main focal point of your conversations. Lying is always a byproduct of other more meaningful areas of exploration with your children.
- As a parent, role-model honest communications and behavior demonstrating integrity with your children. Children may pick up on inconsistencies in parenting and use those patterns as a reason to be untruthful and manipulative.
Unfortunately, some children are pathological (chronic) liars. These children wreak havoc at home. Through stealing, self-medicating, promiscuous sex, and other self-destructive behaviors they may exhibit psychological disorders. These youngsters need professional, psychiatric and counseling treatment.
Remember that lying is purposeful behavior that can be minimized with healthy involvement with your children, appropriate monitoring, sensitivity and understanding, and role-modeling of honest, open, and emotionally expressive communications.
James P. Krehbiel is a licensed professional counselor and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached at (480) 664-6665 or at krehbielcounseling.com.