Barbara, my 6 year old daughter is lying to her father and me about some serious things. Her father and I were never married and we do not live together. He is married and now they are expecting a child. When she goes to her father's house, she will tell him things like my mommy said that you never wanted me or lie and tell him that I do her online readings for her.
She has also lied to me about things that they have supposedly said. She has told me that they told her it was ok for her to call Sarah (her step mother) mommy, which is absolutely not ok with me being that I am her mother.
This is causing some serious tension between her father and me. We already do not have a good relationship with each other and all the lying just makes it worse.
We have both talked to her about her lying but it doesn't stop. I suggested a sit down with Madison, her father and me so we can all discuss the issue together but I have gotten no response from him on that suggestion which is also frustrating.
Do you have any advice for me?
From: Kelly, Winter Park, FLA
You've got multiple issues going on here -- lying; new sibling on the way; and a two-household family -- but my guess is they are intertwined.
Kids lie for many different reasons, including what I call "wishful" lies and some professionals call "fantastic lies" (as in fantasy) which is a way to pretend reality is what they wish it were rather than what it is. Pick yourself up off the floor: I'm not saying your daughter wishes her stepmom was her mom; more likely (much more likely) she wishes life were simpler than it is. Another reason children this age typically lie for attention and they don't care if it's negative attention. And then again, she may also feel threatened by the upcoming birth.
The sit-down with the three of you together is a great idea and I hope you're able to pull it off. Seeing that you and her father can work together as parents -- that you will check in with each other -- is the best way I know to diminish this kind of insecurity-fueled behavior. But before you have the sit-down, you might also want to have a sit-down with a different three-some: you, the father and step-mom so that you can create some kind of workable relationships. I know this is hard, but it sounds like you all love this child and it's her best interests..
Let me put it another way: You need to be the adults. Specifically:
Figure out how you can be supportive of each other. Be clear that you want to be supportive of step-mom and the new family because this is also your child's family. (How do you do that? You talk kindly about them with your daughter; you ask questions about the new baby; you help your daughter make a birthday card at the step-mom's bday; help her to make/find/buy something to welcome her new half-sister. These acts of generosity will come back to you over the years in ways you can't imagine.)
Find some common ground with her dad so that you and he can agree to some basic values (sounds like you already have at least one: no lying). That doesn't mean you and her dad have to have the same rules at your respective homes, but she will fare better if you are able to be respectful of each other's rules.
About the lying: It helps if the three of you are on the same page about the lying. For instance: Agree not to trap her in lies and not to punish her for lying; the typical child who gets punished for lying only learns how to lie better. Instead, both of you can create an environment that supports telling the truth and offers rewards for that rather than punishment for lies. Some children are punished enough by your strong disappointment. When you think she's lying, give her a chance to tell the truth: "I'm not sure this is the truth. I'm going to give you a few minutes to think about this." When she recants, lavish praise: "I'm so proud of you for telling the truth."
When you have the sit-down with your daughter, keep it simple:
Address the lying by telling her lying isn't fair; that's a concept she will understand. Be clear that you both value telling the truth and you each need to know that you can trust her.
Let her know when and how you check in with each other, before and after each visit, for instance. That makes her feel safe and secure: "My parents both care about me."
Lastly, given all that's going on in your daughter's life, I would consider the lying a symptom of emotional upset that could benefit from some professional help.
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