Q: My daughter is 5 and is a liar…about anything and everything! It’s silly things like making up stories to fit in or get attention, and sometimes the things she says makes no sense at all. She always has a reason, such as it was a joke; I didn’t want to get in trouble; and I thought you would be mad. We’ve talked about this, punished her with early bedtimes, loss of privileges, snacks, desserts, trying anything that will motivate her to do the right thing. Any ideas how to nip this now?
A: Stop asking her questions to which you know (or are reasonably sure you know) the answer to. In other words, don’t give her as many opportunities to lie. For the made-up stories among her peers/other kids, let those go. Kids are smart enough to figure out when a peer is not telling the truth–peer pressure doesn’t always have to be a bad thing; sometimes it can work to your advantage!
For the rest of the lies, try not saying anything at all when she tells a whopper. Part of the drama is her lying, you telling her she’s lying, her protesting vehemently, and the game is afoot. Simply stare at her for at least a minute (count it out in your head if you need to) without saying anything. If she persists, say something noncommittal like “hmm” or “interesting,” then walk away. Stop engaging her in the lying game, and she’ll eventually stop lying as much. She may still tell an occasional lie, but then again, she’s not perfect.
Q: My 10-year-old daughter was asked to steal books by a friend and she did. We became aware of it, had her come forward, and she was punished at school and at home. How can we now keep her out of this friend’s influence in the future? I was really devastated by this. I am now concerned that if she doesn’t get in with another group of girls, this will continue.
A: I know this has been hard on everyone, including your daughter. While I agree that limiting her contact with this friend is in your daughter’s best interest, you’re better off focusing on what’s going on inside your daughter’s heart. That’s where the battle to do good or ill rages—not in the choice of friends, because that’s a symptom of the heart.
So for whatever reason, your daughter wants to fit in with this group of girls, and to do so, she’s willing to steal. This is tough one to handle because you don’t want to come across as forbidding contact, but you do want to offer your daughter some protection. I suggest the following:
Allow time for some heart-to-heart talks with your daughter where you do most of the listening. Maybe brew a cup of tea or hot chocolate, snuggle down on a couch, or something soothing, and just ask her what she likes about those girls. Then listen. Listen to what she says, listen to what she doesn’t say, listen to her body language. Ask a few questions to draw her out but don’t ask accusing questions like “Why did you steal?” and “Why do you want to be friends with someone who would ask you to steal?” Those will simply shut her down. Have several conversations like this to get a feel for the situation.
Then talk about the stealing. Again, in a situation where your daughter feels comfortable—maybe when you’re tucking her into bed in at night, etc. Ask her what happened, then let her talk. Ask her how she feels about it. Ask her what she thinks she could have done differently. Help her write out a plan to follow if she’s ever in a similar situation.
Tell her you have her back, that if she needs to use you as an excuse (“My mom would kill me if I did X”) then she can do that freely. Tell her you will come get her out of any situation, no questions asked—then do it. There’s a time for questions and explanations later, of course, but if she knows you won’t blow up at the scene, so to speak, she’ll be most likely to call.
Also have her write an essay or do a presentation on why stealing is wrong. Who does it hurt? Why shouldn’t people steal? How were people punished for stealing in the past? Nowadays? Is there ever a time that stealing is okay? That will help her figure out this stealing thing beyond “don’t steal.”
Finally, tell her that you love her in a million different ways. She’s probably feeling bruised and she knows she disappointed you and her father. Give her hugs, give her love.