How Can I Stop My Fifth-Grader From Lying?
By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist
My fifth-grader has a tendency to lie for no apparent reason. He seems to do it almost automatically. What can we do?
To some degree, lying is a developmental rite of passage for children. All children do it at some point. Very young children (ages 3-5) often tell tall tales because they enjoy having stories told to them as well as making up their own stories for fun. Also, preschoolers tend to blur the distinction between reality and fantasy.
Once a child is school age, he is well aware that lying is wrong and will lead to punishment. Despite this, lying in this age group is still rather common, and can occur for a variety of reasons:
- To avoid discipline. Often children lie simply to stay out of trouble. Making an adult angry or facing punishment can far outweigh the idea that lying is wrong. (e.g., telling a teacher, "The dog ate my homework!")
- To impress others. In this case, children may tell tall tales to make themselves look good to friends (e.g., bragging to peers, "My parents let me watch PG-13 rated movies anytime I want!")
- To get something they want. Children may lie to get something they want (e.g., telling Dad, "Mom said it was okay for me to have soda after dinner.")
- To protect others. Children are very loyal to friends and family members. They may lie to protect someone else (e.g., a child with repeated bruises saying he ran into a door or fell off his bike versus admitting his friend punched him.)
- Role modeling. Many children hear their parents and other important adults lying (e.g., lying about their plans in order to avoid something, calling in sick when not ill.)
- Lying as a habit. Some children feel that lying is the easiest way to handle the demands of their parents, teachers, and peers. Their lies are not malicious, but the pattern becomes habitual.
Have a serious talk with your son about his lying. Give him specific examples of when you have caught him in a lie, and then discuss the importance of honesty, trust, and responsible behavior. Discuss consequences he can expect each time he lies, and then follow through. If the lying does not decrease, or if it becomes more serious and repetitive, then professional help should be considered. Evaluation by a child psychologist or psychiatrist would help both you and your son get to the bottom of his behavior.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.