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Compulsive Lying

All children lie at one time or another. It’s so easily done. Often it’s not even noticed. Nevertheless, it is a sin. God demands honesty and truthfulness. Children lie because their sinful natures incline them to lie. While that is certainly true, it also raises the question of why some children are particularly prone to the sin of lying. Why does a child become a compulsive liar—one who is driven to lie repeatedly without any sign of remorse?

Very often children lie because they are copying parental behavior. Parents teach more by example than with words. The child who sees a parent lie learns that lying is appropriate behavior. Some parents actually encourage their children to lie. For example, a parent teaches lying by telling a child who is about to answer the phone, “If that’s Mr. Smith, tell him I’m not home.” Compulsive behavior in adults can become a template for compulsive behavior in children.

Sometimes a child will lie to fulfill unmet emotional needs. Exaggeration and fantasy stories fit into this category. They are ways of seeking recognition; they make the child feel important. Perhaps the child wants someone to listen and to pay attention. The object of this type of lying is to gain some kind of status.

Some children lie because they are more afraid of what might happen if they tell the truth. Perhaps they are so afraid of parental anger that they lie in an attempt to escape it. They may be afraid that their wrongdoing will be found out. They may also be afraid of an anticipated consequence—punishment, someone's wrath, or the loss of a parent’s love or respect.

A parent cannot ignore the lies of a child. But while the lie itself must be dealt with, a parent must look deeper, below the surface, to try to understand why a child chooses to lie.

It is important to get at the root cause of the problem. Here are a few suggestions to help parents develop healthy attitudes regarding lying.

  • Teach children that God expects them to be honest in all things. And being honest is a way of showing love for Jesus.
  • Praise children for being honest, especially when lying would have been easy.
  • If you know for certain that a child has lied, confront the lie.
  • Look beyond just punishing lies, and try to determine why the child felt the need to lie.
  • Children need to know of God’s unconditional love and his forgiveness. Use such opportunities to remind your children that Jesus loves them and died to forgive the sin of dishonesty too.

12N2026_patientparentingFrom Patient Parenting, by John Juern. © 2006 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.