How do I get my preteen to stop lying about everything?

Q: My eleven year old daughter is constantly lying. She lies about chores, eatting her veggies, putting paper in sink drain and therefore clogging it... It doesn't matter how many times we have caught her she just keeps at it. We've told her, if she just tells the truth, she would get in less trouble but she still tells lies. I've told her if she lies she will be grounded for a few weeks. How long is too long to be grounded? What should we do? Please help us.

A: To start with, at your daughter's age, lying is pretty common. Having said that, when it becomes a pattern and your child does not seem to respond to consequence it can be disconcerting to say the least. The first step in dealing with her lying is to make sure that your consequences are predictable and proportional. What this means is that she has to know what the consequences will be each time she lies (or at least that there will always be consequences). Secondly, it means that if she lies about something small, the consequences need to be small. If she lies about something big (and/or something that causes a lot of damage/cost) the consequences should be bigger. As a general guideline I recommend starting with 1-2 days for every-day offenses and then increasing one day at a time from there based on your assessment of the severity of the offense. One week consequences are best for serious issues only and two weeks are for the most severe things only. I know this might sound soft, but it is important to realize that the effectiveness of consequences is not necessarily related to the length. Ideally you want consequences to be just long enough so that she knows you're serious but short enough so that she believes she can behave well enough for long enough to earn her way back to her privileges. If the consequences are too long, you will be less likely to enforce them 100% and she will be more likely to continue to engage in bad behavior when she feels hopeless that she can ever earn her way back to "normal." In addition, I recommend making the consequence as closely related to the offense as possible so it is relevant (i.e. if she lied about using her cell phone, take away her cell phone). Having said all that, I would also strongly recommend that you begin to look for ways to praise her and pay attention to her whenever she does anything positive. When a child is engaging in consistent negative behavior, we often find it very difficult to consistently provide positive reinforcement. Still, the most effective way to get kids to do what you want them to do is through praise. Any time you see her doing or saying anything remotely positive, be sure to recognize and praise her for it (even if it is an expectation – like telling the truth, for example!). It feels better to praise than it does to punish and it will help you become more aware of just how much she probably needs your positive attention. When kids don't get enough proactive positive attention from their parents, they'll be sure to find a way to get negative attention. For more information on balancing praise and consequences as well as setting firm boundaries in your home, I highly recommend the book Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child, by Robert MacKenzie.

Answered by Jeff Palitz, MFT

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