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  Parenting Advice Column
  Subject: 9-year-old lies

Question:

I have a 9-year-old daughter who would rather call her Dad and me liars than to tell the truth. We have caught her in a lie and she will look us in the eyes and say she isn't lying. We will say, "Well, one of us is lying then...who is it?" And she will say it is us. It is so frustrating, when we catch her doing something and then she will sit there and lie. It doesn't even bother her at all. I am at my wits end and would appreciate any advice on how to correct and discipline this matter.

Thank you,

Wendy


Jan's Reply:

Hi Wendy,

Thanks for writing and for visiting my site.

Has your daughter been punished, and if so, in what ways? (Many children begin lying to avoid punishment.) If so, I urge you to read some of my articles on this topic. Punishment creates fear of more punishment, bringing about an environment conducive to lying.

Are the false statements important ones? If not, and they are about trivial matters, have you tried just ignoring them? Have you considered acting classes (society's "permissible" lying). Whatever needs the lying is meeting may be met in a harmless - and even positive way through acting. Age 9 is a particularly imaginative age. Acting, writing, storytelling, and the like may be the best avenue to try - not grimly as a way out of lying, but lightheartedly as a positive response to her needs.

Has she observed adults lying? Is it possible that she is simply experimenting? Has she herself given any explanations?

In general, try to relate to her as you like to be related to. The one thing to avoid completely is threatening her in any way. The more sure she is that you love her unconditionally, and that she is safe from harm, the less she will feel a need to lie.

All good wishes,

Jan


Hans Ehrbar adds:

My seven-year-old daughter Rachel lives with her mother but she regularly visits me. Since I know how hard she is trying to do the right thing and how much she loves those who care for her, I have tried from the beginning never to punish her or to yell at her, but to works things through with her so that she understands better what to do. Her mother has similar sentiments. The results are rewarding. She is very good in school, very courageous, can express her feelings well, and is also popular with her friends.

Nevertheless it is quite a challenge to stick to the principle of no punishment. It takes lots of time and energy to work out conflicts. Even if I don't raise my voice but the tone of my voice reveals that I am angry she experiences this as yelling. First I tried to suppress my anger, but the better solution seems to be to say: everyone is entitled to their feelings, and since I am angry now we should better stop and continue the discussion when I am no longer angry.

Recently I also had problems with her lying. One of her explanations was that I was lying too and that adults lie much more than children. She certainly is right about adults in general; there are lots of lies in advertising, politics, etc., and her mother often points out the lies and manipulation in advertising to her. But I personally had tried to be honest with her.

Later I discovered that a few months ago I had written approximately the following entry into my diary: "The pressures at work are so great and I am so stressed out that I don't even enjoy it any more when Rachel comes to visit. I am pretending I enjoy it, but I really don't - i.e., I am doing the same thing to her that my parents did to me when they pretended to love me but they did not."

I am convinced now that this is what Rachel picked up. If I were to ask her to identify situations where I had been lying to her she would never be able to say: "you pretended to love me when you didn't." For her self-protection, she never would admit such a threatening thought to herself. But she noticed that something about me was dishonest, and her own lies were a complaint about my dishonesty and my abandonment of her.

I can therefore only second Jan's advice: be very gentle and fully accepting to the child. I think if I stop re-enacting my own childhood traumas and start being more honest with her, she will understand better that I still love her even when I am under stress, and then the lies will no longer be a problem.

Hans Ehrbar
ehrbar@econ.utah.edu

Note: Hans is a moderator of a mailing list for people doing self-therapy based on Alice Miller's concepts. Anyone who wants more information should send the message: "info odyssey" (without the quotation marks) to: majordomo@lists.village.virginia.edu

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