Q. My 8-year-old son has been fibbing lately, which we discovered when his answers didn’t match up with the situation.
Even though he just fibs about unimportant things, we’ve told him that it’s bad to fib about anything, and that it’s important to be truthful and trustworthy. But he still tells fibs. He did tell us the truth after he fibbed the last time, however, which I appreciated since I wouldn’t have known what had really happened if he hadn’t confessed. But is this progress?
Or is his fibbing related to something bigger? Because my father died recently — and in a tragic way — I can’t help wondering if the two things might be connected. Or is fibbing normal at this age?
A. Children express grief in many ways, but your son’s fibbing was probably caused by his age rather than your father’s death. Eight-year-olds try on behaviors the way you try on shoes at Macy’s, and some behaviors — like lying — don’t fit too well. They are necessary, however, because they force a child to choose between right and wrong. When it works — and it usually does — the conscience gets a little stronger, the self a little surer.
This testing occurs, in some fashion, every year, as you probably have seen in your son.
When he was 7 he looked inward. He may also have brooded a lot, moaned about his lot in life and thought about his wants, his needs and himself more than anything or anyone. And then he turned 8. Suddenly this same child became expansive. Now he bounces from one activity to the next; he asks how much everything costs and sometimes he tries to act as sophisticated as you and his dad.
Underneath this flittergibbet behavior, however, is a sensitive fellow who has begun to think of others and to wonder what others think of him — especially his parents. Since your son has put you on a pedestal this year, you need to know that he will be devastated if you get really mad at him.
The lying should stop soon, however, if you keep handling the problem as well as you’re handling it now and if you remember that lying has several different causes which should be corrected in several different ways.
Some children make up stories because they’re bored or because they want more attention. If you think that’s true, then introduce a few adventures into his life or spend more time with him.
A number of kids lie because that’s what children often do at these ages, but other children lie, and at every age, if they think their parents will get mad at them for telling the truth or that they’ll yell at them or embarrass them in front of their friends.
The effectiveness of your corrections may also depend on your tone of voice and how you question your son. If someone tells you that she saw him skateboarding in the street, tell him what you know as soon as he comes home. If you asked him where he was skateboarding, you would be tempting him to say “on the sidewalk” instead of “on the sidewalk and then in the street” and that would be unfair.
If you don’t know whether your son brushed his teeth, finished his homework or paid for the candy bar he’s eating however, you should ask him directly and nonjudgmentally, just as you would ask a colleague if she had finished writing her report.
But if your son insists that he’s telling the truth, give him the benefit of the doubt then ask him again after he’s in bed and the lights are out if his story keeps gnawing at you. Your boy may find it easier to tell the truth in the dark or after he has had a couple of conversations about it.
When he does confess, you should congratulate him for being truthful and tell him that you’re proud of him because honesty is a family tradition. This may seem like a strange combination, but many children obey family traditions as if they were the Ten Commandments.
Although you may have to cancel a treat if your son tells an egregious lie, most children will go straight if their parents have told them that they are deeply disappointed in them. Just that, nothing more. A little shame quickly straightens out most children.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.