Q: I have a problem with my 10-year-old daughter: Just about everything she says is a lie. If I were to ask her if grass is green, she'd probably tell me it isn't. Why is she doing this and how can we get her to stop?
A: Telling lies is a part of human nature, and it starts very early in life. A study on lying done at the University of Toronto found that about 20 percent of 2-year-olds lie, but by age 4, 90 percent were doing it.
Lying is a learned behavior. When we're very young, we look at the adults in our lives as all-powerful and all-knowing. Trying out a lie — and getting away with it — shows us that people can't read our minds. As we get older, we discover that lying can sometimes get us out of trouble and may even help us avoid getting punished. The more successful the lies, the more often they'll be told.
I know I'm painting a pretty gloomy picture of humanity, but the silver lining here is that since lying is a learned behavior, it's possible to unlearn it as well. You may never be able to get your daughter to stop it completely, but you can at least get her to cut back. It's a three-step process.
First, try to find out why she's lying. Is it to cover up a previous lie? To avoid taking responsibility? To attract attention? Once you know what's behind the lies, you'll have a better chance of being able to deal with them, and she won't feel the need to lie as often.
Second, come up with some consequences that will kick in when your daughter lies to you. Talk with your spouse and agree on a single, consistent response that you'll both support. If possible, ask your daughter to come up with what she thinks is an appropriate consequence; kids often come up with harsher punishments than do their parents. Then you've got to stick to your guns. Once your daughter knows that getting caught in a lie will result in X happening, she'll think twice before telling you whatever lie pops into her head — particularly if X is something she really doesn't like.
Third, incentivize her for telling the truth — even if it's a really small thing. If you ask her whether she's finished her homework and she actually has, let her know you noticed and give her a reward (it doesn't have to be a big deal — letting her stay up 20 minutes past her bedtime is enough).
McClatchy-Tribune News Service