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How can I handle a young child who lies?

Testing the boundaries of truth is developmental process for all children. In this video, Karyn Purvis, Phd, founder and director of the TCU Institute of Child Development, offers her tips for handling lying.
Diana K. Blythe, MD
Pediatrics

Lying in young children is a common, but bothersome, behavior. While there are MANY different ways to handle the lying, I prefer something learned from a particularly good mentor and encourage parents to "water the roses and starve the weeds". It works well for most problem behaviors, unless the behavior is immediately dangerous like playing with knives or running into the street.

No matter how irritating or embarrassing it is to you, try to give them as little attention as possible for the problem behavior. In this case, the behavior you want to change is lying. Rather than yelling at them, just ignore any answers that are not the truth which is "starving the weeds". But on the flip side, you must also give attention to both good and neutral behaviors which is "watering the roses". If your child says they finished all their vegetables (and they did), thank them for telling the truth even if you were sitting next to them and already know they finished the vegetables. All behavior that is not a weed is automatically a rose.

This may seem like it is time consuming, but you will get the hang of it and should be pleased with the results.

Make your decisions based on what you know to be the truth of your child’s behavior, not what he “admits” to. If he protests that “it’s not true,” you can say, “Well, I know you wish it wasn’t true, but it was, so here’s the consequence.” Or one I used tonight, when my daughter said she already washed her hands, but I knew she hadn’t: “I know you want to be done washing your hands, but I didn’t see the scrubbing. Let’s try it again, please.” Don’t make him feel like a “liar” or a criminal for telling stories, but let him know that you as his parent do know the truth -- and will work on helping him understand what that means.//The most important issue here is to help your child think through tough situations, to help him make better decisions next time. Ask him about what happened, in a curious way, without getting upset. “You got mad at the other kid and ripped his paper? How come? What happened next? Maybe next time, try and ask him to stop touching your paper, so you won’t feel like you have to rip his picture.”

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.