YOU Magazine - April 2006 - Are Your Children Lying? Don't Worry, It's Not As Bad As You Think By Charles Franklin, PhD Subscribe to YOU Magazine and other timely market alerts from Your Name Here .

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April 2006

March 2006

Are Your Children Lying?
Don't Worry, It's Not As Bad As You Think
By Charles Franklin, PhD

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
Everyone's subconscious is filled with an array of issues that influence their own experience. Events may range from taking a questionable tax deduction to ones with much greater social impact. In the best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck outlines methods to achieve personal integrity and balance. In his follow-up work, People of the Lie, the author suggests that evil thrives when people lie to themselves and then try to cover it up.

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.

Throughout your child's development, there are a few helpful hints that will not only lower your anxiety but will improve your chances of a successful outcome. For example, a toddler does not distinguish between reality and fantasy. This is a good time to be careful about introducing the idea of the "boogey man" but not worry too much about lying. Toddlers cannot grasp the concept.

Elementary School
In between a child's fourth and fifth year, he or she will start driving you crazy with the "why" questions. It's during this period that a child has the ability to accept facts without undue emotional reaction. The filters that help children to factually separate themselves from an experience have now started to develop. This makes it a good time for you to help them shape reality and distinguish it from fantasy.

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
Your pre-teen's development will present fascinating and sometimes exasperating challenges. It may be useful to view their pubescence as a time of "scattered islands" in search of a unifying government. It's not unusual to hear a youngster this age violate English usage by describing several "best friends". Since proper English requires the use of only one "best", adjust your perception to see that each "island" may have a "best" quality in your child's mind, without lying or contradiction.

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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