Advice for the Parent of a Compulsive Liar

By Becky Swain
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Parents usually understand that lying is a part of childhood, but still grimace when a whopper escapes their child’s lips. Regardless of the child’s age or motivation for lying, parents who teach and value honesty will be concerned about dishonest behavior, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Compulsive or chronic lying behavior presents a special challenge for parents.

Responding to Lying

When your child lies, stress the importance of telling the truth. Talk about the scenario that preceded the lying, and come up with alternative ideas that influence a positive outcome. Before age 6, the child who lies needs parental prompts in order to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and regular reminders related to why telling lies isn't acceptable. When your older child lies, tell her you know she's lying and discuss why consistently telling the truth is valued by her family and the larger community.

Sending Mixed Signals

Even if you catch your child in a few tall tales, your words and behavior remain crucial to teaching your child about the value of honesty. Your child might appear confused if you stress the importance of honesty in all settings, but sees you lying at home. For example, if your child hears you offer a less-than-honest explanation for why you did not attend a friend’s anniversary party, expect your child to communicate similarly distorted explanations to your questions. Verbalize and demonstrate that you value honesty through your interactions with others.

Red Flags

Lying motivated by a young child’s imagination or an older child’s desire to avoid rejection or punishment does not usually represent a cause for concern. However, other types of lying might signify troubling behaviors. For example, children who tell tall tales, complete with intricate details to others, might see lying as an opportunity to gain attention. Additionally, children who lie to prey on others, or lie to divert attention from another issue, might have emotional problems that need to be addressed.

Seeking Professional Help

Consult your child’s pediatrician for referral to a counselor, psychologist or mental health worker if you observe a pattern of chronic lying, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. All lying behavior, including compulsive lying, serves a purpose for the child. For compulsive liars, the boundaries between right and wrong might appear blurred if the child experiences challenges with developing a healthy conscience. Recommendations for parents and their child can be provided after an evaluation to uncover the motivation for compulsive lying.