Dealing With Tall Tales

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Dealing with tall tales

I have a daughter who can't seem to stop telling “tall tales”. I catch her in lies all the time at home, and now she's complaining that the kids at school don't believe anything she says. Does she simply have a great imagination, or is this a serious problem?

If your daughter is a preschooler - three to five years old - you should bear in mind that kids at this age often have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. They can tell “stories” without really understanding that they're lying. In that case, mum and dad simply have to wait until their child outgrows this troublesome stage.

If, on the other hand, she's a bit older - a grade-schooler or a pre-teen - then she's old enough to know that what she's doing is wrong. Her behaviour is conscious and wilful, and as such it must have an underlying motive. Our first guess would be that it's calculated to gain attention. She may not feel confident and secure about who she is, and as a result she's desperately trying to find a way to get her peers to like and respect her. Stated simply, she assumes that she can become more interesting and popular by embellishing the truth or making up fantastic stories about her life.

Does this analysis seem to fit your circumstances? And if so, is it possible that the roots of the problem lie within the circle of your immediate family? Have you been too busy to give your child the attention she requires at home? Maybe she just wants to be reassured of your love. Perhaps you should look for opportunities to spend some one-on-one time with her. 

Ask her if there's anything she'd like to talk about. Remember that, according to the most reputable studies, quantity time with parents is every bit as important to children - if not more so - than quality time. If her problem with lying has a domestic basis, you may be able to come up with a solution without ever moving beyond the home front - if you handle it sensitively.

If this approach doesn't yield the desired results - if the “tall tales” seem designed purely to elicit a response from her peers - then you should make it clear that lying will almost certainly have a negative effect on her relationships with other kids. If her friends begin to believe that she can't be trusted, they won't want to spend time with her. This, of course, is exactly the opposite of what she's trying to accomplish. Bring this point home to her, and you may be able to make some real progress in the direction of extinguishing the unwanted behaviour.

It may also be helpful to implement firm consequences for lying, such as taking away privileges when you catch her in a falsehood. Don't let yourself get pulled into a debate with her about whether or not she told the truth. Just deal with the behaviour in a decisive way - act, don't yak. You can also enlist the help of her friends by asking them to tell her that they don't want to play with her if she persists in lying. Then, the next time she bends the truth, they should simply walk away.

This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia (www.family.org.my) and the Questions and Answers are extracted from “Complete Family and Marriage Home Reference Guide” by Dr James Dobson with permission.