Dear Dr. Bill,
Ever since my second daughter could walk and talk, she has been sneaky and a little deceitful. She’s now almost 6-years-old and is very smart and sweet, but her tendency to lie and misbehave without regard for consequences continues to baffle me. Recently has begun lying right up to the point of absolute denial because she was afraid of facing discipline for disobedience. What should I do?
It’s likely that your daughter has found that lying works for her—at least some of the time. She’s learned that telling a fib helps her to avoid or at least delay punishment. So the first step you need to take is to make the consequences for lying much more severe than for other types of misbehavior. In other words, if she deliberately breaks one of her sister’s toys, she will receive a consequence, but if she LIES about it, her punishment will be considerably more severe.
You’ll need to clearly explain this to her, so that she knows in advance that she’s much better off telling the truth and admitting to an infraction, even if she does experience a negative consequence for her misbehavior.
The key is to follow through, and to find consequences that are truly meaningful to her. For example, let’s say her favorite activity these days is playing with Barbie dolls. If she tells a lie, she loses Barbie for two days.
In addition to consistent, powerful consequences for lying, you should also begin praising her when she tells the truth. We often forget how important it is to “catch our kids being good.”
My guess is that you’ve fallen into a negative cycle with your daughter, and the best way to break that cycle is to consciously work toward praising and rewarding her when she obeys and tells the truth, rather than simply punishing her when she disobeys or lies.
Thanks for writing Krista. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, just click the “Questions” tab on the Family Expert page.