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Are Your Children Lying?
Don't Worry, It's Not As Bad As You Think
By Charles Franklin, PhD
Lying is one of the most common issues parents encounter, and it often drives them to seek counseling for their children. Parental motivation for seeking help runs the gamut, from a purist's intent to instill proper morals, to a self-serving desire to relieve their own discomfort. This discomfort may include feelings of embarrassment, frustration, confusion, and the fear that their one-time innocent child will grow into a pathological liar.
A Little Background
That being said, you undoubtedly feel a great responsibility to influence the direction of your child's growth by the experiences you provide and what "programs" you install into your child along the way. In order to make good use of the following comments, keep in mind that just as your children come in all shapes and sizes, their brains develop in their own unique way. In other words, whether your child is precocious or a late bloomer, he or she will become the left-brained mathematician or the right-brained artist in their own good time.
Kindergarteners, because they reason purely in quantitative logic, can be used as an example. Ask the five-year old who should be punished more, the child who steals one cookie from his grandma or the child who steals five cookies to feed hungry children? The typical answer will be the child who took more cookies, without any consideration for the intention.
Rules and laws implemented by society are geared to reflect different levels of morality. The punishment for intentional harm is greater than emotionally-driven or accidental harm. I suggest first determining the capacity of intent in your child's lie and then using this model to discipline accordingly.
School-age children are faced with many contrasting challenges. The adherence to rules grows side-by-side with exaggerated notions of unlimited potential ("I can fly") and self-responsibility ("It's my fault my parents are getting divorced"). Throughout their time in grade school, my advice is to focus on guiding your kids toward a personal awareness of their own intentions. This will bring about a synthesis of personal structure and morality.
Middle School & High School
As a child enters their teenage years, an emerging sense of self develops. With it comes a drive toward personal identity; which is accompanied by change from an idealistic view of the family and the world, to one that scrutinizes flaws, judges any sign of hypocrisy, and promotes rebellion. This even happens with the so called "good" children.
When your child meets the wall of parental mandates, interacting with you on a need to know basis, telling you what they think you will accept, and even lying outright are not unusual. It is during this time that teens close their bedroom doors and the parent's anxiety grows exponentially.
To alleviate this, first understand that power struggles only result in increased alienation and worry. Believe it or not, most children expect fair consequences for behaviors that violate fair rules. The best word to describe a working model for success in this case is "collaboration". As a parent, try to set aside your own baggage and listen to the problem stated by your adolescent. Offer personal wisdom and shoot for at least a neutral, if not positive, interaction.
One last offering–rather than looking at lying as an obstacle to successful parenting, view it as a way to understand your child. Most importantly, use their lying as an opportunity to assist their successful journey through life's various developmental stages.
Dr. Charles Franklin has practiced family psychology for 25 years. He completed his undergraduate work in the subject at Loyola University and holds a Masters from Cal State University Los Angeles, with an emphasis on psychological aspects of physical disabilities/rehabilitation counseling. Dr. Franklin holds a PhD in psychology/human behavior from US International University, researching his dissertation topic, "Music and its Impact on Anxiety Levels" at the University of London. He is currently practicing in Sherman Oaks, California.
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