children and lying

Hi Rene,

My son Christian lies about everything!

Even small, stupid stuff that there is no reason to lie about. He’s always in trouble in school telling the teachers he is not going to do the work that they want him to do and currently failing eighth grade. The teachers call me constantly about his schoolwork not getting done.

In an effort to get to the bottom of this, I set up a meeting with the principal and teachers at the school so that Christian could tell his side of the story in front of them. But it was very frustrating and he keeps insisting that they are the ones not telling the truth.

Rene, I’m at my wits’ end. My wife (Christian’s step-mother) and I have a six-year-old child together; Christian was an only child until that time. Now Christian and my wife argue all of the time and I just don’t know what to do. I’m a disabled father and desperately need help.

Signed, Frustrated Father

Dear FF:

WHOA! Okay, I hear lots of pain and can foresee much, much more. You have work to do to get this train back on track before it derails completely, leaving twisted metal and carnage in its wake. Here’s the deal; I know you wrote in about Christian’s lying, but the real key here is at the end of your letter. Here’s what I would do if I were in your shoes.

WORK WITH THE SCHOOL: Listen, I have a kid who’s notoriously bad at “remembering”. When I ask about school assignments, I usually only get half the story.  So at the beginning of each school year, I make it a point to introduce myself to all of his teachers, exchange email addresses and phone numbers and let them know that I am at their disposal. Then I tell my kid that the teacher and I are working as a team so not to try to pit one against the other. Every afternoon, I ask if his homework is done and verify what he says against his class website. Every so often, I’ll drop a line to the teacher to check things out for myself. With minimal detective work, you can get the story straight from the horse’s mouth and find out which assignments are completed and which are not. I know there are only a few months of school left, but it is not too late to do this, if you haven’t already.

SET UP A CLEAR PUNISHMENT FOR INFRACTIONS: This is critical. You need to sit Christian down and let him know what the consequences will be for lying. Everyone has something that they treasure; video games, free time, friends, money, whatever. Find out what Christian cherishes then hold it hostage. I mean it. But if you threaten a punishment, you have to follow through; you will only undermine yourself and your authority if you issue false threats.

GET THEE TO A THERAPIST! This is IMPORTANT! Even thought this is last on my list, it needs to be first on yours.  We know people lie for myriad reasons, to make themselves look better or to get attention. The latter is why I think the lying is more a symptom than the primary problem. Look at this from Christian’s point of view. He was the baby and the center of attention for the first seven years of his life. Then you got remarried and along came another baby, who, by virtue of that fact that he/she is a baby, “stole” the attention Christian had become accustomed to. So he’s probably bitter about that and this new woman who “brought” the baby who usurped his position. Do you see where I’m headed with this? So now Christian is fighting for attention. Whether it’s positive or negative, it’s still attention.

Along with the therapist, I would make sure you are really demonstrative in your affection toward your son. He needs to know that no matter who comes along after, he’ll always be the first and always have a place in your heart. I would also shower praise on the behavior you want to see repeated, like getting good grades and telling the truth. As soon as Christian sees there are rewards for doing good things (along with the family therapy) I suspect you’ll see more of that behavior.

Good luck to you Dad!

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