My 6-year-old is a liar!

Posted by David Beard, Globe Staff  February 12, 2009 10:29 AM

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The following came in a Boston.com reader Q&A this week with Child Caring writer Barbara Meltz:

Question: Hi Barbara, Any advice for dealing with a 6-year-old boy who has become comfortable lying to us? He vehemently denies that he is lying, but we know that he is.
GULLIBLE


Barbara Meltz
: Dear Gullible, basically, kids this age lie for different reasons and, because they are not cognitively fully developed, I'm not sure it's even fair to consider them lies in the adult sense of the word. But, for example, a child this age might like to avoid punishment, to get a material reward or to keep a promise.

By 9 or 10, kids like to avoid an overly intrusive parent. And sometimes kids of all ages lie just to see if they can get away with it. But what's most likely for a 6-year-old is that the lie is more what kids think of as "tricking," kind of a game they play with themselves: Haha, I tricked you! It's just that they leave that part off.

The problem of course is that lying can ultimately cause a lot of damage and an erosion of trust. It never helps to tell your child, "I know you are lying, and in fact, getting them to admit to a lie isn't nearly as important as establishing a fundamental value of honesty and trufulness. At this age, he's old enough to know that lying is unfair, and to label it cheating. So be sure to establish the high value you place, in your family, on telling the truth.

The next time you think he is lying, instead of accusing him of l ying, try this: "I'm not sure if you are telling the truth. Before you say anything else, I want you to think some more about this." Or this: "I don't think you are telling the truth. I'm not happy to have a rule broken, but I'm even less happy if someone lies about it."

Obviously the goal is not to trap or trick him but to help him understand that lying is not good, and that you are someone who is understandable and approachable. Reward telling the truth, don't punish lying.

Agree with Barbara? Have some truth-telling of your own to contribute? Let us know in our Comments section.

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10 comments so far...
  1. We've been lucky, so far. Our 5 year old (and to a lesser extent our 3 year old too) are brutally honest. How I _think_ this has worked is that we have tried to teach them that telling the truth is the most important thing. They get in FAR less trouble when they admit to some wrong doing than they would if they chose to lie about it.

    Before I pat my self on the back, though, they are still very young. Still, I hope that we are fostering a life of truth telling.

    Posted by bv February 12, 09 01:19 PM
  1. He needs to have time out or be punished if he continues to lie.

    Posted by me February 13, 09 12:08 PM
  1. When my nephew was 6, he told me something I was sure was a lie; I told him I wasn't sure he was telling me what really happened but I hoped and trusted he would 'do the right thing'. Thirty minutes later, he came to me and said he had something very important he needed to tell me; he said he needed to 'do the right thing and tell the truth.' He told me what really happened, I thanked him for doing the right thing - and told him that he had made a smart and brave choice by telling me the truth. I hoped then, and still believe, I gave him an honorable choice and was proud of him for accepting the opportunity.

    Posted by Gizelle February 15, 09 05:37 PM
  1. It is actually not bad that your child is lying at that age. It is a sign that his brain is developing normally. It just may take some time and effort to help him learn the social norms.

    Posted by LST February 15, 09 06:15 PM
  1. Veggie Tales: The Big Lie. Kids believe everything they see on tv...might was well use it to your advantage.

    Posted by mho February 15, 09 08:04 PM
  1. Is that your professional opinion "ME"?


    Posted by brt February 15, 09 08:29 PM
  1. Children should be seen and not heard. As a parent you need to control them.

    Posted by Jughead February 15, 09 09:39 PM
  1. A 6 year old who lies? He's just preparing for the adult world., where he'll need to lie constantly in order to survive.

    When little kids lie there is rarely bad intent. It's a game, stretching the truth, making up a funny story, or because they are worried of your reaction to honesty. My youngest sometimes tells me there are monsters in his room, so he can't go to sleep yet, and needs to watch more TV. Is that a lie? No, it's a laugh.

    Posted by Ralston March 8, 09 07:51 AM
  1. hmm. 6 year olds definitely know the difference between a lie and the truth. its important to establish that lying is not ok. for example, when you know your child is lying i agree with the author to say you don't believe what they are saying is true and that "we" don't lie, and that "we are not a lying family. its never ok to ignore it.
    at between 2 - 4 saying their is monsters in the room may be a "laugh", however by age 5+ a child knows what a lie is and its important not to engage them in ANY lying behavior. it will eventually become a habit for the child.

    Posted by TMForte January 26, 12 06:49 PM
  1. Not only is our six year old lying, he's changing grades on his papers and his behavior sheet to the point the teacher can no longer use a pencil. He's openly defiant and disrespectful. We've tried staying calm, explaining, and all the psychological tricks of the trade on reward and punishment. He continues. He's constantly begging to have "friends" over, but when someone comes over to play he's bossy, rude and treats them horrible. He was like this when we first got him a little over a year ago, and with time he seemed to blossom and grow into a healthy, happy child. In the last several months we've seen nothing but anger, hate, lies, manipulation, open defiance and even aggression. Nothing has changed in our home, we still offer loving support, but it gets harder every day. And yes, before you ask--we did try corporal punishment, but he liked it. He actually prefers we spank him and does his best to try to push us to that point. He's in therapy and has been since we took him. I think it's important that all children learn early on that lying is not acceptable. Perhaps if we'd got him earlier we could have made a difference. Now, I'm not so sure.

    Posted by cwf September 16, 13 12:16 AM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. We've been lucky, so far. Our 5 year old (and to a lesser extent our 3 year old too) are brutally honest. How I _think_ this has worked is that we have tried to teach them that telling the truth is the most important thing. They get in FAR less trouble when they admit to some wrong doing than they would if they chose to lie about it.

    Before I pat my self on the back, though, they are still very young. Still, I hope that we are fostering a life of truth telling.

    Posted by bv February 12, 09 01:19 PM
  1. He needs to have time out or be punished if he continues to lie.

    Posted by me February 13, 09 12:08 PM
  1. When my nephew was 6, he told me something I was sure was a lie; I told him I wasn't sure he was telling me what really happened but I hoped and trusted he would 'do the right thing'. Thirty minutes later, he came to me and said he had something very important he needed to tell me; he said he needed to 'do the right thing and tell the truth.' He told me what really happened, I thanked him for doing the right thing - and told him that he had made a smart and brave choice by telling me the truth. I hoped then, and still believe, I gave him an honorable choice and was proud of him for accepting the opportunity.

    Posted by Gizelle February 15, 09 05:37 PM
  1. It is actually not bad that your child is lying at that age. It is a sign that his brain is developing normally. It just may take some time and effort to help him learn the social norms.

    Posted by LST February 15, 09 06:15 PM
  1. Veggie Tales: The Big Lie. Kids believe everything they see on tv...might was well use it to your advantage.

    Posted by mho February 15, 09 08:04 PM
  1. Is that your professional opinion "ME"?


    Posted by brt February 15, 09 08:29 PM
  1. Children should be seen and not heard. As a parent you need to control them.

    Posted by Jughead February 15, 09 09:39 PM
  1. A 6 year old who lies? He's just preparing for the adult world., where he'll need to lie constantly in order to survive.

    When little kids lie there is rarely bad intent. It's a game, stretching the truth, making up a funny story, or because they are worried of your reaction to honesty. My youngest sometimes tells me there are monsters in his room, so he can't go to sleep yet, and needs to watch more TV. Is that a lie? No, it's a laugh.

    Posted by Ralston March 8, 09 07:51 AM
  1. hmm. 6 year olds definitely know the difference between a lie and the truth. its important to establish that lying is not ok. for example, when you know your child is lying i agree with the author to say you don't believe what they are saying is true and that "we" don't lie, and that "we are not a lying family. its never ok to ignore it.
    at between 2 - 4 saying their is monsters in the room may be a "laugh", however by age 5+ a child knows what a lie is and its important not to engage them in ANY lying behavior. it will eventually become a habit for the child.

    Posted by TMForte January 26, 12 06:49 PM
  1. Not only is our six year old lying, he's changing grades on his papers and his behavior sheet to the point the teacher can no longer use a pencil. He's openly defiant and disrespectful. We've tried staying calm, explaining, and all the psychological tricks of the trade on reward and punishment. He continues. He's constantly begging to have "friends" over, but when someone comes over to play he's bossy, rude and treats them horrible. He was like this when we first got him a little over a year ago, and with time he seemed to blossom and grow into a healthy, happy child. In the last several months we've seen nothing but anger, hate, lies, manipulation, open defiance and even aggression. Nothing has changed in our home, we still offer loving support, but it gets harder every day. And yes, before you ask--we did try corporal punishment, but he liked it. He actually prefers we spank him and does his best to try to push us to that point. He's in therapy and has been since we took him. I think it's important that all children learn early on that lying is not acceptable. Perhaps if we'd got him earlier we could have made a difference. Now, I'm not so sure.

    Posted by cwf September 16, 13 12:16 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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