We have a 7-year-old child who does not seem to be able to keep from telling lies. His lies have been getting worse as he gets older, too. He lies about where he has been in the neighborhood. He lies about things that happened in school. We are worried he probably is lying about our family at school or to neighbors. He will vow that what he is telling us is the truth — even when he knows it is not. He is smart and, don’t get me wrong, a great boy. He is our only child, and we are afraid he will grow up to be a problem.
Calm down and take several deep breaths. In my experience, I have known many children who found lying to be a craft. All of them have grown to be fine adults.
For many children who are your son’s age, the art of speaking the truth is not as rewarding as making a full-grown, competent adult look like a fool for believing a tall tale.
I will not detail the many forms of lying or its development in children. Suffice it to say, most children do not see the problem. Therein lies (no pun) the cure.
Make the lie ineffective. Make the contrary truth effective. Most parents tend to lecture and punish lying. That usually increases the untruthful productions by serving as a curious reinforcer. What to do?
Stick with what you know happened. When the tall tale comes, simply affirm the truth and ignore his attestations of veracity. Avoid editorials like, “Well, I hope you are not lying now” or “The last time you told a big lie ....” Give a neutral response, such as “really?” or “no kidding?” When the truth becomes clear, state it without accusing.
Share assumptions. Assure him that he is a boy who wants to tell the truth. Do not make a fuss over it. Simply affirm the best. You are shaping behavior.
Over time, the lying will become useless and unrewarding. And that’s no lie!
Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.