He shouts & he lies (luckily, not at the same time)

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 17, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hello Barbara,

I have two questions here regarding my only child -- a 6-year-old boy.

1. He talks loudly! "Please keep your voice down" is something his Dad and I tell him several times during the day. This has been going on since he turned 3, I think (so -- forever)! He does not have any hearing problems -- that's the first thing we checked. Is the only way to handle it to keep telling him and endure it meanwhile?

2. In the past few months, he has started making up and telling stories about himself that are not true. For example, he told his camp counselor that he has three siblings (he actually has three "cousins"). Another example -- a while back, the house across our street caught fire, but he told a kid in school that our house caught fire.

We have attempted to instill in him the value of always being truthful. We keep telling him that telling such untrue stories is not good/right, that it might backfire some day (the boy who cried "wolf") etc. He seems to understand it -- but continues to do it anyway. Is this a phase and will pass -- or should we worry about this?

Any advise would be most appreciated.
Thank you!!

From: Mom of talker, Acton

Dear Mom of Talker,

The loud voice is something he will likely outgrow. Kids this age have a hard time with modulation, they don't get nuances. They are also very concrete at this age and may not understand about "keeping your voice down." Make up a "Whisper Game" of some kind, where you whisper to each other and see how much you hear, or how far away you can be, and have reasons why your voices might get softer and louder. Also be sure to model the behavior you want: talk softly to each other, not just to him. If you whisper to a child, the child will most likely whisper back, and he'll also get quieter to match your mood. It can be fun.

You don't mention any other ways in which he has difficulty reading social cues, but if he does, such as with facial expressions or body language, get an evaluation.

Telling white lies is also pretty common. At this age, kids tell lies mostly to impress their age-mates, or because they think it's funny, or just to see what they can get away with. In both cases you cite, I'm betting it was to impress peers. (It could also be because he's wishing for a sibling, so you might want to use this as an entre to a conversation about that: "I'm wondering if you made up that lie because you wish you really did have a sister or brother." Then grant him the wish in fantasy: "It would be nice to have a sister or brother, wouldn't it?" and see where that takes you.)

You are absolutely right to talk to him about the importance of being truthful, because when you aren't truthful, people can't trust you and they might not want to be your friend.

Be sure to praise him when he is truthful ("I really appreciate that you told me the truth. In our family, we really value honesty.") and, when appropriate, thank other adults for being honest, too. When you know he has lied, there needs to be a consequence. Tie it as much as possible to the transgression: He lied about putting the dog in the back yard pen, now the dog has peed, it's his job to clean it up.

If you suspect he's lying, don't try to trap him; that models a kind of deceitfulness. Tell him, "I'm not sure if you are being truthful or not. I want you to take a few minutes to think about this before you say anything else, and I want you to remind yourself how much I value honesty in a person." If he starts off lying and then tells the truth, praise him for his courage: "I'm so proud of you for telling the truth, I'm not going to punish you this time." If it happens again, be clear that you still admire the truth but can't overlook the transgression. Don't make the punishment so severe, however, that he will feel telling the truth is a wasted effort.

If lying happens every day or more, seek professional help.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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1 comments so far...
  1. I taught kindergarten at a school camp this summer (I usually teach much older kids) and we had one little boy who would tell us outrageous stories about things he saw or did or vacations the family was planning. At first, the other teachers and I believed a few of these tales. When it all became too much to take in, we'd ask him, "Would mommy know about this?" or "Did this REALLY happen?" Most of the time he would say no and make it clear that it was just part of his active imagination. When he insisted something was true, we'd ask mom and there was usually a kernel of truth - a trip to Texas that didn't quite sound right turned out to be what he had interpreted from a convo between the parents about something they would like to do in the future.
    He wasn't lying (on purpose) and he didn't really have a problem determining reality from imagination. He just wanted to tell us what he was thinking and didn't understand that he needed to preface it with a better explanation.

    Posted by Julia September 18, 10 11:54 AM
 
1 comments so far...
  1. I taught kindergarten at a school camp this summer (I usually teach much older kids) and we had one little boy who would tell us outrageous stories about things he saw or did or vacations the family was planning. At first, the other teachers and I believed a few of these tales. When it all became too much to take in, we'd ask him, "Would mommy know about this?" or "Did this REALLY happen?" Most of the time he would say no and make it clear that it was just part of his active imagination. When he insisted something was true, we'd ask mom and there was usually a kernel of truth - a trip to Texas that didn't quite sound right turned out to be what he had interpreted from a convo between the parents about something they would like to do in the future.
    He wasn't lying (on purpose) and he didn't really have a problem determining reality from imagination. He just wanted to tell us what he was thinking and didn't understand that he needed to preface it with a better explanation.

    Posted by Julia September 18, 10 11:54 AM
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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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