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Communication Problems:
“My kid is a liar.”

Dear Annie,

My son is in the 6th grade and I've caught him lying to me. I'm really upset at the thought of my son being a liar. I need some advice about how to teach him the importance of telling the truth.

Troubled Dad

Dear Troubled Dad,

All kids have been caught in a lie at some point in their lives. This doesn't necessarily predict a life of dishonesty. Of course, nobody wants his/her child to lie and you're absolutely right, this is the time to teach him your values.

It doesn't help to think of your son as a "liar". The kid made a mistake and he needs a course correction. That's what you're there for. So take a slow deep breath before you talk to him about it again.

You haven't provided me with much information. Did this happen once or is this a pattern? Does this behavior represent a radical change for your son? Are you noticing any other changes (drop in grades, disinterest in people and activities he used to love, general secretiveness, defiant behavior, etc.)? What did he lie about? Even without these answers, there are two ways you can help him. The first is to talk about how lying hurts people. He's old enough to understand that lying destroys trust. Talk about this, but do it calmly. Tell him how catching him lying reduces your level of trust for him. Ask him if he ever caught someone lying to him. How did that make him feel? How did it change the relationship? This kind of talk helps your son understand the impact of his choice to lie.

The other way to help is to have him look at what's going on with him emotionally, i.e., what's pushing him in the direction of lying? Young adolescents can't always answer the question: "Why did you do that?" So you're going to have to work with him to help him understand his motivation. Keep your tone fairly neutral (if you want him to be forthright you can't appear threatening). You might say, for example, "When you told me that you and Mike were just playing video games, what were you afraid I'd do if I knew the truth?" If your son says "I don't know." Rephrase your question: "You probably thought I wouldn't be happy with what you were really doing, right?" This conversation should feel absolutely SAFE for your son. After he's opened up and talked about why he is hiding whatever he's lying about, then you need to praise him for telling the truth right now. It's obviously hard for him to talk about this stuff. By letting him know how much you value talking to him on this honest level you're encouraging more honesty. If the lying doesn't stop, you might want to set up a meeting with the school counselor. I hope this helps.

In friendship,

Annie

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