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Compulsive Lying

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: My ten-year-old son lies. This has been going on for sometime. I don't understand it because we are a very close-knit loving family and we've never hit our children. For example, when he was playing outside my husband told him to bring the dog inside when he comes in. When my husband approached him because the dog was still outside, he said that he did let the dog in and our 90-lb. dog must have slipped by him. We knew he was lying and he stomped off screaming and crying that we never believe him. It wasn't until we made him sit in his room for an hour that he finally came out and told the truth.

We had a long talk about lying and just four days later he lied about doing an optional poster for DARE in school. When I asked to see it, he said it fell off the wall and he couldn't find it. When I told him I would ask the teacher about it he said he was just joking with me and cried and stomped about how I never believe him. He has no reason to lie and when I ask him why he does it, he says he doesn't know. What can I do?

A: Honesty is one of the most difficult issues with which a parent can deal. Children begin to lie for any of a number of reasons -- such as attention or avoidance of punishment. The dishonesty eventually becomes rewarding in itself because it keeps the parent from discovering the lie and so the child avoids further punishment.

Try focusing on the positive with your son by rewarding him with your attention when you know he is telling the truth and withholding attention when he lies. Follow up every time you are not absolutely sure that your son is telling the truth, checking with his teacher or whoever might know whether or not he is lying.

It's difficult to change dishonest behavior without professional help, however. Start with the school counselor. He or she may be able to give your son some individual time or include him in a small group on honesty. The school counselor or your pediatrician can also refer you to a therapist in your community for additional help.

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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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