Dear Therapy Doc,

My eight year old seems to be a chronic liar. It doesn't matter what I ask him, he either makes no sense or is clearly not telling the truth.

He looks me right in the eye and lies!

Is he a pathological liar? How do I break this habit? In answer to your question, we don't hit him when we punish him, we give him a time out. I was giving him a time out every time he lied, but he didn't seem to mind, so now I just shake my head and say, "I know you're lying" and walk away. But he's still lying. And now it's getting to be a sort of a power thing. He'll dig in his heels and say, "NO I'm not," and smile.

Telling the truth is a big thing for me so I am

Feeling Like a Failure

Dear Feeling Like a Failure,

Some family docs would say that there's someone ELSE in the family who is lying, too (like a spouse or other sibling) but I'm going to assume that it is not that and give everyone in your family the benefit of the doubt.

Sometimes lying is about coping, feeling unable to get anywhere, unable to present your side of the story and still be respected for it. Kids aren't as verbally skilled as their parents who can run circles around them. And they're rightfully afraid of getting into trouble for breaking rules, so they'll lie to stay out of trouble. They're not stupid!

You're right to want to break this habit. But he's little and he's clearly playing with you, knowing this is your trigger. I say that because he's still in the stage of life where understanding and liking reality is a conscious challenge. We adults don't like our realities but we have a harder time denying them.

(More on adult denial another time, but know that people with great denial skills are not always great adults, they procrastinate a lot. Yet, sometimes, denial is our best friend. But let's get back to little one.)

I'm thinking that he's smart enough to want to create his own reality and is inviting you into it. No, he's not psychotic (truly detached from reality). He just wants reality to lay off a little and perhaps even wants you you to come down to his level and join in on the process. Think of it as play. I would, at this point, start to join in the fun and embellish the lie yourself. For example, if he broke into the cookie jar you could say,
So, you say you didn't eat the cookies. I'll bet it was Alex, the mailman. He likes cookies
For sure your son will laugh and go, "YES, YES, Alex ate them!" And then you go,

What I should do then is just give him the whole next batch, right? That's the nice thing to do.
See, two people can play this game. Good Luck!

Therapy Doc


Margo said…
My four-year-old has pretty much stopped lying, as long as I promise not to get angry when he tells the truth. Then, I really have to not get angry. But we do talk about the issue, and sometimes there are consequences, so he knows he's not getting away with murder. A little understanding goes a long way.