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knitfroggy's avatar

What's the best way to deal with a lying kid?

Asked by knitfroggy (8962points) April 27th, 2009

My nine year old daughter tells huge lies quite frequently. A lot of times they involve a girl at school being mean to her. When I tell her I’m going to call the school and find out what’s going on she breaks down and says she’s just making it all up. When I ask her why she’s lying about things she says she just likes to make stuff up.

Is this something I should worry too much about? Will she grow out of it? It’s getting to the point where I have trouble believing everything she is telling me. She is a very artistic child and always has her head in the clouds. She loves to write stories and illustrate them. I think her lying is just an extension of her stories but I don’t want it to get out of hand.

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36 Answers

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Let the child know you know they are lying and that it’s not right. You need to establish right away that lying is not tolerated or as a parent you will end up second guessing everything they say during their teenage years. Best to nip this lying thing in the bud right now.

JasonRobbed's avatar

Call them on it. Make it embarrassing. But don’t let them get away with even one. You have to consistently call them out on it.

Facade's avatar

Yea, embarrassment will do the trick.

cak's avatar

This may sound silly, but does your daughter know the story about Chicken Little? You know, the whole, “the sky is falling?” If she doesn’t, and I am aware that she is maybe a bit old for the story; or, even if she knows the story, it is time to revisit the book. Then, discuss the book, not you explaining, but have your daughter tell you what the book means. Then, put one of her stories into context and explain why it’s the same thing. When she really needs you, that might just be the time you decide that she’s lying.

It’s normal, but needs to be corrected. Punishing, like some of the things I can remember from friends or growing up – soap in the mouth, spanking, humiliation – I had a friend who’s parents would tell the recent lies to all their friends – can backfire and make the situation worse. The thing is, she’s not at the 6yr old, testing boundaries about lies stage, she’s 9 and really can understand that lying is not a good thing to do. It’s really time to impress upon her how serious lying is – what it leads too. Losing someone’s trust is a huge thing, and it takes a long time to earn it back, again.

Encourage the imagination, maybe buy her a special book to write her stories in; but, tell her there are rules. The fantasy stays in the book. Lies, they can’t be in daily life.

Now, in regards to this one child, I would wonder why she lies about this one girl. Is there something that you may need to be aware of? Do you think a note (without your daughter really knowing) to her teacher asking about this one girl a possible idea, just to make sure there aren’t any issues that you may need to be aware of? I mean, you don’t need to send a note, “My daughter is a liar and I need to see what is going on.” You might just want to touch base with her teacher.

I do think there should be consequences to the continued bad habit, you can’t reward her with journals and things like that if the habit continues. You could explain that even in court, there are consequences for perjury – explain what perjury is – then come up with a consequence for lying.

It might take a little time, but you really need to impress upon her how serious this can be and that there is a zero tolerance policy in your house.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I thought you might find this interesting:

In younger children, ages 3–7, you will often find lying. But it is more an expression of their increased cognitive and imaginative abilities. It is fun. It is storytelling. And it isn’t anything a parent typically has to worry about.

At age 9 things are a bit different. It is less an expression of imagination and more an expression of some type of emotional difficulty. You may want to try and find out what that is. If it is the same story of someone bullying her maybe it is true and she just doesn’t want you to call the school??

What to do about it beyond explaining lying is bad? Give alternatives. When you catch her in a lie do not put much emphasis on the lie itself because then you are rewarding her with attention. You would instead have her tell the truth about what happened that day and reward her for it. Or get out some crayons and paper and tell her that if she wants to make up stories she should write them or draw them out. And the first couple times you might have to “make” her do this.

You also want to focus on her when she doesn’t lie. Perhaps she believes she gets more attention when she does lie. I mean there is some truth in that. As concerned adults if a child tells us they are getting bullied we typically stop what we are doing and pay attention to that child even baby them some. That is a normal reaction. So instead randomly throughout the day you want to reward her for telling the truth. Whenever she tells the truth about her day at school or if she tells a bit longer story that is true you should immediately reward her. Give her a nickel, verbal praise, sugar free candy, anything that is rewarding for her. This is called positive reinforcement. It does not work if you are punishing at the same time. If you must punish then do it separately from the positive reinforcement.

Or what about the story of the boy who cried wolf :) Just adding after reading @cak suggestion :)

This is the age when you should focus on the truth. It isn’t so much about imagination anymore. She has the capacity to know the difference. You can still encourage her creativity and storytelling as long as it is done at the right time.

cak's avatar

@RedPowerLady – great answer, lurve! :)

knitfroggy's avatar

@cak and @RedPowerLady Thanks so much for your input. I will give these suggestions a shot and see how it works out!

cak's avatar

@knitfroggy – Good luck! :)

YARNLADY's avatar

If it seems to be a problem beyond what you can handle, you might want to consider professional help. My son had/has a serious personality disorder and lying is one symptom of it. We had him in counseling for several years, and he did come to terms with it, but it still creeps in his life from time to time.

knitfroggy's avatar

@YARNLADY At this point it is something I think I can handle. I hope it doesn’t go that far.

oratio's avatar

Are you sure she is lying about the mean girl, or is she lying about lying cause she is afraid whats going to happen if you call the school?

Jeruba's avatar

Hmm, I never thought “Chicken Licken” was about lying. It’s about getting all worked up over nothing and how foolish fears spread from one person to the next. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is about raising false alarms, which is certainly lying. That might make a good cautionary tale.

I always told my kids, again and again and again from the time they were small, “If you always tell me the truth, I’ll always believe you.” The day came when that mattered greatly: my older son was falsely accused by a school official. He came straight home and told us all about the incident, and we believed him against the word of the authority. We ultimately proved it, too, and got a formal apology from the school district. If we had not been so certain we could trust his word, we would not have known if it was right to go head to head with a principal and a vice principal.

I didn’t miss my chance to underscore the lesson (I rarely do): “Because you’ve always told us the truth, we knew we could believe you even when we had nothing to go on but your word.”

Unfortunately the second one went through a long stage of lying, and nothing we did actually made any difference. So you can give me a plus and a minus on that one.

cak's avatar

@Jeruba – Ha! My husband just said I need to read my books, again!! You are absolutely correct. Long day and a major brain fart!

RedPowerLady's avatar

Well Chicken Licken is about someone who everyone thinks is lying but is actually telling the truth. So it could represent your point @Jeruba. That if the child did tell the truth all the time there would be no reason to doubt him and he wouldn’t have had to go through all that drama, lol. :)

cwilbur's avatar

If she likes making things up, steer her towards storytelling.

The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction isn’t presented as if it were factually true.

Jeruba's avatar

In the traditional version I know, Chicken Licken was hit on the head by an acorn and thought the sky was falling. She did have a real experience, but she misinterpreted it and then raised the alarm to all her neighbors, one by one. They all believed her, and together they trooped off to tell the king (until they met Foxy Loxy). Maybe we’ve got different versions in mind; I know that some folktales have been drastically rewritten, presumably to sell copies, and also to launder them so there are no disturbing images for young children (who can handle them perfectly well).

@knitfroggy, you could also make up a fine fable about truth and lies and the consequences of lying (although that might undercut your point a little). Or tell an experience of your own. Or maybe you could just get her to use a signal word, like a magic word, to let you know up front that she is spinning a yarn.

Before taking any steps to correct her, I would want to be sure about which part is true and which isn’t. Oratio has a point.

knitfroggy's avatar

She loves to tell stories. She wrote a story about superheroes and the characters were some of her classmates. Her teacher talks about it still, like in parent teacher conference or when we talk about how daydreamy and creative she is. The teacher thought it was fantastic.

She is very dramatic, that’s why I think the lies usually focus on someone being mean to her. She can make the story better if it’s sad, I guess. I just need to work on getting her to focus her creativity into her story writing instead of making up lies about stuff that’s happened at school. We encourage her to be creative and buy her all kinds of art supplies, pens, papers, etc.

Jeruba's avatar

It sounds like she has a wonderful gift that she just needs to learn how to use properly. Lots of young superheroes have that problem. There’s a hook for you. What if you asked her to write you a story about a superhero who hasn’t learned to use well a gift such as, oh, let’s say telekinesis? After she’s written it, complete with a moral that she will no doubt think of all by herself, you could gently point out that storytelling is also a special gift, and let it drop right there.

(Are you sure there is even such a person as the girl she claims is being mean, or is this classmate an invention?)

knitfroggy's avatar

@Jeruba The classmate exsists-she’s pointed her out to me on several occasions. So I know that part is true at least.

Shreyas's avatar

I think, no one wants to lie unnecessarily. Its the fear for something that makes a person lie. This fear is not even controlled by adults and they too lie then how can we expect the child to speak truth always. So if parents or teachers find some child lying they must have a humble chat with him at a lonely and quiet place telling him effects of his bad habbit and giving him examples of great personalities. He should feel secure after talking to you. His fear of, speaking the truth must be vanished. So target his fear not him. Secondly the surrounding plays a very important role. The home atmosphere should be plesant and less quarrels should take place. See if he/she is having good friend circle. The important thing is the child should not feel alone in his tough times otherwise his lying habbit will increase.

wundayatta's avatar

My first thought was that something must be going on. I think @RedPowerLady‘s response is dead on, as far as that is concerned. She knows what lying is. She knows what story-telling is. It sounds like she’s trying to gain symptathy or something. Or maybe just attention.

Are there any younger siblings? Any babies in the house? Any recent changes in jobs or time at home for parents? Has anyone been sick for a while?

There is one thing I disagree with @RedPowerLady on, and that is the issue of positive reinforcement. In general, I want my children to do things because of the intrinsic value of them, not because I am manipulating them with rewards or punishments.

If my children do something I like and appreciate, I tell them that. If they do something I don’t like, or that hurts me, I tell them that, too. I hold them responsible for their actions when they have been shown how to do something properly. If they make a mess—real or metaphorical—they must clean it up.

I’m not saying I don’t slip up at times, and resort to bribes and punishment, but for the most part, I try really hard to use these other methods. I believe they are much more effective in the long run because they lead to the child thinking for themselves and controlling him or herself, instead of the child hewing to rules out of fear of punishment.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Jeruba Haha. That is so true. I more recently saw the movie where the sky was kinda falling… well it was a piece of an alien spaceship. LOL

RedPowerLady's avatar

@daloon It isn’t bribing or manipulating a child. It is just a way to reinforce positive behaviors. In society we focus way to much on negative behaviors. This is a form of behavioral therapy. It also is a way to get parents to focus on children’s positive behaviors. Lets be honest. How often do parents stop what they are doing and sit with a kid just because they used good manners for example. However if the kid hits their sibling a parent will stop what they are doing and spend quite a bit of attention on the manner. You do not have to use physical reward you can use pure positive attention. Of course children respond better to physical rewards as is human nature. It is in no way manipulation. All it does is stimulate the brain into recognizing positive. So you said that you want your kids to do what is right for its intrinsic value. Do you know how old a child has to be to understand the intrinsic value of something? That progresses with age. Also we must consider how do they develop a sense of what has intrinsic value? By modeling and behaving in appropriate ways and seeing how it helps them and helps others. All positive reinforcement does is reward children for behaving positively so they can develop that moral sense you are talking about. For some children it is much harder to develop this on their own. And for others it is simply about a certain behavior and not about their sense of self.

And you know what else is good about positive reinforcement?? It works better than punishment. This is a way of getting parents out of the realm of punishment. You don’t punish unless absolutely necessary. Instead you reward and shape positive behaviors. This is a much healthier way of dealing with negative behaviors vs. punishment. Especially in young children where punishment doesn’t actually change the way a child thinks about what they are doing, it just creates fear responses. In this circumstance there is some shaping (perhaps you would title it manipulation) but this is with problem behaviors. This works instead of punishment. Less fear and more rewards. What is wrong with that?

cak's avatar

@RedPowerLady – I agree with you. I don’t see it as a bribe or true manipulation. It’s just positive reinforcement. Our son’s school had a lecture series and that line of thought was carried through most of the speakers thought processes. By positive reinforcement, they threw out so many ideas and none of them were true material rewards. It was special time, an extra book, helping work on a craft project. Just more rewarding time between parent and child. Never a bad idea, in my book.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@cak Great examples of non-bribery rewards. That is fantastic they did a lecture series at your son’s school. I think more people could benefit from learning as much.

cak's avatar

@RedPowerLady – He attends a fantastic school. It is a public school, but I swear, it’s more like a private school. They have done so many great things for families and offered so many additional programs. I’m thrilled with his school.

By the way, I shared your answer with a friend that is going through the same problem with her child, she loved it and will be taking your advice! :)

wundayatta's avatar

@RedPowerLady: I’m totally down with using praise and thanks as appreciation for behaviors we want to encourage. I’m opposed to punishment as a way to deal with behaviors I don’t like. However, you wrote “Give her a nickel, verbal praise, sugar free candy, anything that is rewarding for her.” What I don’t want to end up with is a child who expects candy or a nickel for telling the truth. Verbal praise is a different thing entirely.

Regarding intrinsic value—I disagree. Most children have a good sense of what intrinsic value is. They might like bicycle riding, or drawing, or playing with dolls, or whatever they choose to do on their own, without being told to do it. Those are things they do because of the intrinsic value in them. I just want politeness, consideration, cooperation and many other things to be amongst those things.

The only kids who don’t know the intrinsic value of something are those who have been squashed at every turn. They like drawing and they are told drawing is useless. Study your math. They like playing with dolls, and are told they are too old for that and should be cleaning the house. Etc. Etc.

These kids learn they must follow rules. Thinking creatively is forbidden. Punishment comes for creative thinking. Did you ever read ”A Wrinkle in Time”? Those are the techniques used by IT to make the families conform.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@cak That makes me feel nice :) Thanx.

BTW that is so great to hear there are good public schools out there.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@daloon I understand the reluctance to give a physical gift, @cak did suggest some great alternatives to that. Also on the behavioral level it doesn’t need to happen for very long. Sometimes one needs to use a physical reward if the problem behavior is severe. The physical reward is rarely needed beyond a couple weeks. The entire point of the method is that it shifts the brain so that the reward is no longer needed.

I just want politeness, consideration, cooperation and many other things to be amongst those things. Ahh but for many kids this must be taught. Also children must develop Theory of Mind before they are able to see value in being nice to others. Some children even need to develop greater capacity beyond that, physically I mean.

Having said that I completely agree with you that creativeness should be encouraged. Free thinking should be allowed. Children should not be squashed. I just also believe that you have to encourage such positive behaviors for them to flourish because the rest of the world is encouraging negative behaviors.

wundayatta's avatar

@RedPowerLady: a theory of mind? Does that mean teaching them to think about long term consequences? At what age do you think kids can get this? Maybe 4? or 5? Or is theory of mind something else? Perhaps I don’t have one since I have no idea what it might be.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@daloon lol. It is typically acquired at a young age, 4yo, but develops over time. Theory of mind is understanding that others think and feel differently from you. Unfortunately Wiki describes it better than I do:

wundayatta's avatar

Yah. Over time. Especially with my son, who doesn’t see why he should be polite, even after 100 extended explanations. On the other hand, outside the house, by all reports, he is a delightful, considerate, polite chap. Maybe he’s just pushing our buttons.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@daloon I remember as a child I would Always clean up after myself when a guest but would never do it at home. LOL. I don’t think I did it deliberately though. Even looking back on it I couldn’t tell you what it was.

Jeruba's avatar

@daloon, Miss Manners said it’s to keep us from wanting to kill each other.

wundayatta's avatar

@Jeruba: well, I don’t think I explained it to him in such extreme terms, but perhaps I should give it a shot?

Jeruba's avatar

Might make an impression, anyway.

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