This mother can't tolerate her 6-year-old's lies

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 5, 2009 06:00 AM

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She needs to put her issues aside and see this from a developmental perspective.

Dear Barbara:

My six-year-old granddaughter has been lying a lot lately. My daughter is very upset with her and I need some advice. These are examples of her lies: She told her father (divorced) that her front tooth was loose; She told her paternal grandmother that she was "color blind" (her grandmother is color blind); She told me that she road her bike up and down the street without training wheels (she cannot ride without training wheels yet) Her friends will often say "you are making that up again!" My daughter is a wonderful mom. She had a history of lying and she is bent on making sure her daughter doesn't live a life of lies that lead her down some bad roads in her life. My daughter is in recovery, smart, beautiful, self-sufficient, and a loving mom. She feels her daughter (only child) lies because she has a father that isn't in her life enough and a mom who has to work and cannot give her all of the attention she so desires. She can be attention seeking at times. She is well behaved and everyone who meets her or cares for her comments on how wonderful she is. My granddaughter is very intuitive, creative, and loving.

My daughter is very good with her...she takes time to explain and talks with her. They play together, go hiking, etc. She usually doesn't need advice. However, currently she has grounded her for her latest lie. When do you know if this is something more serious or if you are handling it properly? My daughter is angry about this behavior and needs some input.

I would truly appreciate your help.

From: Marcia, Rochester

Hi Marcia,

First of all, tell your daughter not to beat herself up so much about being a single working mom. Secondly, it sounds like she is over-reacting to your granddaughter’s “lies.” Grounding a 6-year-old is over-the-top even given your daughter’s personal history and her understandable desire for her child not to lie. It’s important to recognize the developmental issues at play here.

Let’s start with a definition. Lying is the purposeful attempt to deceive another person. For decades – in fact, until the 1980’s – researchers didn’t think children under 7 were even capable of such deceit. The thinking that has replaced that is that young children are capable of deceit, but only within their range of development which is to say, when the lie serves their best interests. At this age, you’re 100% right that she would be doing that as a way to get attention. She might also lie to avoid punishment or to keep a promise. A child slightly older might lie to impress a peer, to get out of an awkward situation.

Let’s take your granddaughter’s lies one by one.

Telling her father her front tooth was loose: most likely an attempt to attention from him and, perhaps, to impress upon him that she is growing up.

Telling her color-blind grandma that she, too, is color-blind: an attempt to secure grandma’s love. Her thinking might go something like this: “If grandma thinks I’m color blind, I’ll be just like her. Maybe she will love me more.”

Telling you that she can ride without training wheels: an attempt to make you proud, and/or to show you that she is grown up, both ways to get your attention and your love.

OK, so what should you daughter do? The best single thing she can do is to model how much she values truthfulness by being truthful herself. One way to do that is to kind of talk to herself out loud or to explain her thinking to her daughter. For instance:

“I don’t like the scarf grandpa gave me for my birthday but I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Instead of saying, ‘Oh I love it,’ which would be a lie, I’m going to think of something good I can say about it to spare his feelings. I think I’ll tell him it goes nicely with my jacket, which isn’t a lie.”

Since the goal is to help a child not to lie, a child needs to see the parent as understanding and approachable so that he can conclude, “Even if I do something stupid, my mom might understand. I can tell her.” Unreasonable punishment doesn’t accomplish that (and grounding a 6 yo is unreasonable in my opinion.) Better to create an environment that supports and rewards truth-telling rather than one that punishes lying. If she starts off lying and then tells the truth, reward her courage: “I’m so proud of you for telling the truth. You deserve a break for that.” If it happens again, still admire the truth-telling (“I’m glad to see you are being honest.”) and keep the discipline reasonable, not so severe that she’ll think that telling the truth wasn’t worth the effort.

Also:

Don’t accuse her of lying. That will only make a child this age defensive and more entrenched. Instead, tell her, “I’m not sure if you are telling the truth, and the telling the truth is really important to me. Please think about this some more before you say anything else.”

Don’t try to trap or tempt her into a lie. That models deceit. If you have evidence of a lie, present it in a straightforward way. Tell her, “I don’t think you are telling the truth because of X. I’m not happy to have a rule broken but I’m even less happy if someone lies about it.”

Ultimately, getting a child to tell the truth is about establishing a fundamental value for honesty and truthfulness, so another thing to do is to identify her need to lie and label the lie for what it is, and then offer a coping mechanism: “I bet you told grandma that you could ride without training wheels because you wanted her to be proud of you, and to see how grown up you are. I wonder how else you could make her proud and not tell a lie….”


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3 comments so far...
  1. I think we skipped over something critical here: "My daughter is in recovery." Lying is a central dynamic in the alcoholic/addicted home. I don't know how long your daughter has been in recovery but, even if your grand daughter was never around for the substance (whatever it was) abuse, old habits die hard. Your daughter may underestimate the extent to which young children perceive lies and learn to copy that behavior. Your daughter may still be lying (because it's a learned coping mechanism) and not even realize she's doing it. I can only suggest that you do some research on this and consider its relevance. Best of luck and congratulations to your daughter for her sobriety, an ENORMOUS accomplishment!

    Posted by wg67 August 5, 09 04:04 PM
  1. Wow. Since when did we ever think that grounding a 6 year old is harsh punishment? I have three children. 22, 19 and 16. They all told lies at young ages to try to get what they wanted. What i started doing is if they lied about something then i took something away for a lil while that they realy liked to do. Within just a few weeks they stopped lieing and found that when they tell the truth they will be praised for it.

    Posted by Ricky Hupp October 18, 09 05:58 PM
  1. I completely agree Ricky and I am terribly annoyed at a lot of responses on here, most significantly the ones that say 'punishment' is not the answer? What is that? Doesn't anyone wonder exactly WHY kids are acting the way they are today and why they are the ones running the house? Because of these ridiculous responses which are being handed out providing punishment is bad, discipline is bad, consequence is bad etc. Oh please. These brats today are taking over the household and thanks to so many idiots giving 'parenting' advice, parents are trying to be their child's friend rather than their child's parent.

    Posted by Cherri Herrmann November 18, 10 04:09 PM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. I think we skipped over something critical here: "My daughter is in recovery." Lying is a central dynamic in the alcoholic/addicted home. I don't know how long your daughter has been in recovery but, even if your grand daughter was never around for the substance (whatever it was) abuse, old habits die hard. Your daughter may underestimate the extent to which young children perceive lies and learn to copy that behavior. Your daughter may still be lying (because it's a learned coping mechanism) and not even realize she's doing it. I can only suggest that you do some research on this and consider its relevance. Best of luck and congratulations to your daughter for her sobriety, an ENORMOUS accomplishment!

    Posted by wg67 August 5, 09 04:04 PM
  1. Wow. Since when did we ever think that grounding a 6 year old is harsh punishment? I have three children. 22, 19 and 16. They all told lies at young ages to try to get what they wanted. What i started doing is if they lied about something then i took something away for a lil while that they realy liked to do. Within just a few weeks they stopped lieing and found that when they tell the truth they will be praised for it.

    Posted by Ricky Hupp October 18, 09 05:58 PM
  1. I completely agree Ricky and I am terribly annoyed at a lot of responses on here, most significantly the ones that say 'punishment' is not the answer? What is that? Doesn't anyone wonder exactly WHY kids are acting the way they are today and why they are the ones running the house? Because of these ridiculous responses which are being handed out providing punishment is bad, discipline is bad, consequence is bad etc. Oh please. These brats today are taking over the household and thanks to so many idiots giving 'parenting' advice, parents are trying to be their child's friend rather than their child's parent.

    Posted by Cherri Herrmann November 18, 10 04:09 PM
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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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