Dear Dr. Bill,
I have a 7-year-old daughter who can't seem to stop telling lies. For example, her friends have come up to me asking if it’s true she lived in Africa for 6 years! My daughter complains that kids don’t believe anything she says, and I catch her in lies all the time at home. Does she simply have a “great imagination” or should I be concerned? I’ve repeatedly told her to stop telling “stories,” and she often says she was only kidding when she’s been caught. What should I do?
Younger kids often have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. They will often tell “tall tales” and not really understand that they are lying. However at 7 years old, your daughter is old enough to know that what she is doing is wrong.
She’s likely doing this to gain attention. She may not feel confident and secure about who is, and is trying to find a way to get the other kids to like her. By embellishing the truth or making up fantastic stories about her life, she believes she will be more interesting or popular.
Rather than simply telling her to stop the behavior, it’s important that you emphasize how lying will negatively affect her relationships. Explain to her that her lying makes you very sad, and that none of the other kids will want to spend time with her if they can’t trust her.
In addition, implement firm consequences when she lies. Don’t get pulled into a debate with her over whether or not she told the truth. Instead, immediately implement a consequence such as taking away a privilege.
You can also enlist the help of her friends. Explain to them that you are trying to help her with her “tall tales” problem. Tell them that the next time she lies, they should tell her that they don’t want to play with her if they can’t trust her. Once they’ve done this a few times, she’ll get the hint that lying causes her more pain than gain.
Thanks for writing, Michelle. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” tab on the Culture Connection page.