How should I respond when my grade-schooler tells an obvious lie?

How should I respond when my grade-schooler tells an obvious lie?

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It's natural to get upset when you catch your grade-schooler lying, and you may worry that it reflects badly on you. Rest assured, though, that it's still developmentally normal for a child this age to lie or make up stories from time to time, and that other parents share the same experience.

Let's say you saw your youngster spill his juice, but he claims, "I didn't do it!" All kids want to avoid getting in trouble — and most don't want to be bothered with the cleanup — so they often try to deny responsibility. Instead of locking horns over telling the truth, focus on the problem at hand. Give him a paper towel and say, "Please clean up the juice." This way, you avoid getting into a battle about who spilled the juice, and you turn your grade-schooler's attention toward the issue of getting the mess cleaned up. A child this age can understand the consequences of his actions, and he should start to take more responsibility for them.

If your grade-schooler does something wrong and actually admits it, on the other hand, be sure to praise him for being honest in a difficult situation. This is an important tactic, because it encourages him to keep telling you the truth in the future.

You may also think that it's lying when your child makes up stories that obviously aren't true. He might declare, for instance, "I flew to the moon and back during recess today!" Such statements can be unsettling, since you no longer expect to hear fantasies from your grade-schooler. Try not to worry about it, though. Unless your child's making up hurtful stories about others, tale-spinning shouldn't be considered lying. In fact, if he's good at making up stories, encourage his talent in a positive way. Ask him, "Really?" Then listen to him embellish his tale and help him write about it in a homemade book.

Some untruths, of course, are less innocent. For instance, your grade-schooler may come to you and, without batting an eye, say, "I haven't watched any TV today — can I watch one show?" When you check with your spouse, though, you discover that your child has in fact already used up his TV quota for the day. As frustrating as it may be, keep in mind that even this kind of manipulative truth-stretching is normal, since kids this age are knee-deep in testing parental boundaries and their own power. If you consistently give consequences (banning TV-viewing the next day, say) and continue setting a good example, he'll eventually learn that trying to pull the wool over your eyes just isn't worth it.

To discourage future lying, talk meaningfully to your grade-schooler about why lies are bad and how they break down trust. If you're concerned that he's lying habitually, or if he lies about serious matters — taking money from your purse, for example — talk to him about what's going on in his life that may be provoking the lies. Let him know, too, that there will be consequences for his dishonesty. You could withhold his allowance, for instance, and explain to him that he needs to regain your trust in order to get it back. You can also try to interest him in books that deal with the issue of honesty. Two good ones for this age group are The Honest-to-Goodness Truth by Pat McKissack and Arthur and the True Francine Marc Brown. And of course, the best way to teach your grade-schooler honesty is to be honest yourself.

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