Ask Me: My 11-year-old child lied to me. He doesn’t know that I know. Should I confront him?

Q. My 11-year-old child lied to me. He doesn’t know that I know. Should I confront him? What should I do? It was not something serious but I am scared that if I ignore it, it may become a habit.

KU: Lying is often a defence mechanism when the child is trying to evade what is uncomfortable or feels the threat of being rebuked by the adults or feels the pleasure of hiding reality or pretending something that happened in a story, it can even be just to attract attention. In any case, it’s leading to habit formation if not checked. 

By early childhood, around 3 years children learn to speak untruth, as they understand adults can’t read minds, by the age of 4-6 years lying along with matching facial expression and voice modulation is visible but if explained or questioned they may tell the truth. With an increase in age the complexity and success of lying increase.

When your child is being dishonest or lies, and you know, it’s better to respond instead of reacting and help him/her understand and rationalise that speaking untrue things is not good. An 11-year-old is capable of understanding what is right and what is wrong,  hence talking about the issue would open communication between parents and the child, reacting will shut it and the child will try to be more alert so that his/her lies are not caught ever and will continue to behave so. Approach them with curiosity instead of being judgemental, you will understand the “why” of such behaviour.

It’s to be kept in mind, that

Children are resourcefully smart and they know how to convince their parents and negotiate with them, they also understand which parent will give way first and so manipulate things accordingly.

Both parents must take a firm stand without creating a negative environment.

Punishing may not always work, hence, adding an incentive for adhering to the rules, maybe welcomed. Here take the child into confidence and discuss the pros and cons of being dishonest.  A good talk and depiction with stories will always help. Story-times are always a beautiful, fulfilling asset for any family, try and develop this from an early stage. Start with some indoor activities like playing cards, board games, and relating to life’s various aspects.

With puberty setting in earlier than before it’s important that early adolescence age is handled with care and the child understands what the parents mean. It’s always good to keep certain points in mind:

  1. Set yourself as a role model for your child
  2. Honest and truthful behaviour should be a rule in the family
  3. Analyse why your child lies before taking an action
  4. Precaution is better than cure, so keep the child warned that lying is not to be approved at any cost
  5. Tell the child the outcome of a dishonest individual, so stories of moral values will be useful
  6. The consequence of telling lies is loss of trust by family and friends, which should be clearly stated
  7. Praise the child for telling truth even under the threat of punishment, praising always encourages good habits formation
  8. Using the Token Economy technique, for every truth, the child gets a token and after collecting for example 10 or so, can get it exchanged for a privilege like getting ice cream, going out to the mall, playing a game of his/her choice
  9. Do not publicly shame the child for being dishonest or lying.
  10. Seek professional help if your child’s lying behaviour is a serious issue and affecting his/her relationship with friends/parents or performance at school.

Kavita Upadhyay

Student counsellor and has expertise in teaching psychology, career counselling, stress management and gender issues. Kavita is also an expert practitioner in marital counselling, life skills, interaction with community, research and tool construction.

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