Mom and child's dad are struggling with her lying

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  July 23, 2012 06:00 AM

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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

Hi Kelly,

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.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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5 comments so far...
  1. Sounds like Dad and Stepmom are gearing up to go to court to request full custody of your daughter, now that they're a "real family" with a mom, dad, and baby, and you're "just a single mother." They're prepping her for testimony: Mommy doesn't want me. Mommy does my homework for me. I call Stepmom "Mommy."

    I'm sure this sounds wildly cynical, but I knew someone who was the child in a very similar situation- Dad got a new family and made a custody play by attacking Mom.

    Have your daughter start seeing a child psychologist immediately, get a lawyer ready, and start documenting incidents of these Daddy lies with date and time, and how you responded.

    Posted by AP July 23, 12 12:30 PM
  1. I would very careful about assuming this is all prep for a custody battle. This could make a difficult situation worse. If the relationship with the Dad has a history of lies then it may be a possibility. Children often test out lying, its part of growing up.

    Posted by MPRP July 24, 12 11:24 AM
  1. "The typical child who gets punished for lying only learns how to lie better."

    Wow, just wow. So now we're not supposed to punish a child for lying? So what if she learns to lie better, maybe she will grow up to be a salesman or a politician and good lying will be an important life skill that you helped nurture. I'll agree this is a difficult situation, but in most cases the punishment should fit the crime, and it should be to make sure she doesn't lie *to you*.

    Posted by geocool July 24, 12 12:48 PM
  1. Geocool, I'm making a distinction between punishment and discipline.
    Punishment (spanking, hitting, using abusive language) is a parental outburst that the child cannot relate to his or her own behavior and therefore only makes the child angry. Discipline (the use of consequences and reward) helps a child to understand and correct the behavior.

    Posted by Barbara July 25, 12 09:58 AM
  1. My Son is doing this, but his father is part of the problem. He is lying saying he does not bath and that he is being abused for his father. He is only 8 and his father just started being a part of his life. We are horrified at the lies and have no clue what to do. He knows these things are not true and does not say them nor anything close when he is with us, but with his father he is convinced to say it. And just for the information. I know for a fact these are lies. I am here at home everyday all day. I know what goes on. What do we do.

    Posted by dawn June 24, 13 12:11 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. Sounds like Dad and Stepmom are gearing up to go to court to request full custody of your daughter, now that they're a "real family" with a mom, dad, and baby, and you're "just a single mother." They're prepping her for testimony: Mommy doesn't want me. Mommy does my homework for me. I call Stepmom "Mommy."

    I'm sure this sounds wildly cynical, but I knew someone who was the child in a very similar situation- Dad got a new family and made a custody play by attacking Mom.

    Have your daughter start seeing a child psychologist immediately, get a lawyer ready, and start documenting incidents of these Daddy lies with date and time, and how you responded.

    Posted by AP July 23, 12 12:30 PM
  1. I would very careful about assuming this is all prep for a custody battle. This could make a difficult situation worse. If the relationship with the Dad has a history of lies then it may be a possibility. Children often test out lying, its part of growing up.

    Posted by MPRP July 24, 12 11:24 AM
  1. "The typical child who gets punished for lying only learns how to lie better."

    Wow, just wow. So now we're not supposed to punish a child for lying? So what if she learns to lie better, maybe she will grow up to be a salesman or a politician and good lying will be an important life skill that you helped nurture. I'll agree this is a difficult situation, but in most cases the punishment should fit the crime, and it should be to make sure she doesn't lie *to you*.

    Posted by geocool July 24, 12 12:48 PM
  1. Geocool, I'm making a distinction between punishment and discipline.
    Punishment (spanking, hitting, using abusive language) is a parental outburst that the child cannot relate to his or her own behavior and therefore only makes the child angry. Discipline (the use of consequences and reward) helps a child to understand and correct the behavior.

    Posted by Barbara July 25, 12 09:58 AM
  1. My Son is doing this, but his father is part of the problem. He is lying saying he does not bath and that he is being abused for his father. He is only 8 and his father just started being a part of his life. We are horrified at the lies and have no clue what to do. He knows these things are not true and does not say them nor anything close when he is with us, but with his father he is convinced to say it. And just for the information. I know for a fact these are lies. I am here at home everyday all day. I know what goes on. What do we do.

    Posted by dawn June 24, 13 12:11 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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