Helpful Articles •
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Helping Children Who Have a Problem with Lying
Honesty is the basis for any relationship because it develops
trust and upon that foundation simple things like communication
and responsibility rest. When a child lies, that trust
is broken and relationships suffer. Parents often don’t
know how to handle dishonesty and common discipline techniques
don’t quite address the problem. A more comprehensive plan
is usually necessary since dishonesty often has several
components. Here are some ways to deal with it.
1. Talk about reality and truth and how they are different
from fantasy, wishes, possibility, pretend, and make believe.
Require that children use cues to identify anything other
than reality. Here are some ideas:
“I think it happened this way,” “I think this is the answer,”
“I’m not sure...” “Maybe...” (possibility)
“I wish this were true,” “I’d like it if...” (wish)
“I’d like to tell you a story...” “I can imagine what
it would be like to...” (fantasy)
2. Use the Bible verse Proverbs 30:32 to teach children
to stop talking in the middle of a speaking mistake. When
you sense a child is beginning to stray from the truth,
stop them. “I want you to stop talking for a minute.” Sometimes
children just get started and can’t stop. Parents can help
teach them. “Think for a minute and then start again. I’d
like to hear the things you know separated from the things
you think.” “Start again and tell me how it really happened.
Just the parts you are sure of.”
3. If a child has ADHD or is impulsive, use a plan for
self discipline. Sometimes children who are impulsive blurt
out things without thinking. Other times they start talking
and don’t know how to stop. This impulsivity component
can lead to dishonesty because of a lack of self-control.
It’s not always malicious lying, but it’s still not good
and shouldn’t be excused because the problem often gets
worse. Even though children may have poor impulse control,
they must learn to tell the truth. The route, though, may
contain more self discipline training than some of the
4. A courtesy generally given in relationships is called,
“the benefit of the doubt.” When a child has developed
a pattern of lying we don’t automatically give that courtesy.
Believing someone requires trust and it’s a privilege which
is earned. Privilege and responsibility go together and
when a child is irresponsible then privileges are taken
away. For a time, the things your child says are suspect.
You may even question something that is found to be true
later. A child may be hurt by this, but that hurt is the
natural consequence of mistrust which in turn comes from
lying. Being believed is a privilege earned when children
are responsible in telling the truth on a regular basis.
Not believing your child may seem mean but your child must
learn that people who don’t tell the truth can’t be trusted.
Tell your child that you would like to believe him or her
but you cannot until he or she earns that privilege.
5. Some situations won’t be clear and some children will
deliberately lie to avoid punishment. You find yourself
in a predicament because proof seems impossible yet you
have a sense that this child is not telling the truth.
When possible, don’t choose that battleground. It’s too
sticky and you will usually have other clearer opportunities
later. Children who have a problem with lying, demonstrate
it often. Choose the clearer battles and use those situations
to discipline firmly. Use Taking a Break and the Positive
Conclusion and maybe other consequences if necessary.
6. Confrontation should result in repentance. This may
seem unrealistic at first but keep it in mind as your goal.
children who are confronted with the fact that they are
telling a lie should immediately agree and apologize. A
child who is defensive is relying on arguing and justifying
as manipulative techniques in order to avoid taking responsibility.
This is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. Use Taking
a Break to motivate the child to repentance.
7. You may, for an introductory period of time, in order
to motivate repentance when confronted, withhold further
discipline if a child responds properly to correction.
“If you can admit it was a lie and that you were wrong
when I confront you, I will not further discipline you
for that lie.” This is a temporary approach to teach a
proper response to correction.
8. Be proactive in teaching about honesty. Tell stories
from your life or read stories like:
The Emperor’s New Clothes
The Boy who Cried Wolf
Ananias and Sapphira from the Bible
There are several good books at your local library on
this subject which are written for children and are well
illustrated to capture their interest.
9. Give an outlet for creative writing or storytelling
to further emphasize the difference between fantasy and
reality and a proper use of fantasy.
10. Memorize Bible verses dealing with honesty since the
Scriptures is a way to appeal to a child’s conscience.
These suggestions will go a long way toward
helping a child tell the truth. Don’t let this problem
go. It only gets worse. Continual, persistent work will
pay off in the end. Other helpful ideas can be found in
the book, Good and Angry,
Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids, by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne
Miller, RN, BSN.