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My son is a compulsive liar. What should I do?


Dear Life Coach,

My 10-year-old son constantly lies, sometimes for no reason at all, but mostly when he thinks he may be in trouble. I tried explaining to him that lying is wrong, but he continues, so sometimes I scold him and sometimes I punish him. It seems to me, however, that nothing helps and it seems to be getting worse. I am so concerned for him; what if he takes this into adolescence and adulthood?{{more}}

Liar’s Mom (LM)

Dear LM,

Your son has a problem with being truthful and you fear that he may carry this beyond his childhood years.

Your Situation:

Here are some factors that may be contributing to your situation: Compulsive Lying Disorder, compulsive lying versus pathological lying, fear/avoidance of punishment and reinforcement of lying, lack of remorse, low self-esteem, poor relationships and isolation, fear of facing the truth, addiction and rewards and consequences. These I will address briefly.

Compulsive Lying Disorder

Compulsive lying is a psychological disorder in which an individual lies in order to escape punishment, and does it so often that it becomes a habit because the lie is never discovered or there is a significant amount of time between the lie and its discovery.

Difference between Compulsive Lying and Pathological Lying

In Compulsive Lying Disorder, the individual is lying in order to escape punishment. In Pathological Lying Disorder the individual is lying in order to achieve a certain gain.

Fear/Avoidance of Punishment and Reinforcement of Lying

With compulsive lying, a child who is punished for doing something wrong begins to lie in order to avoid being punished. If the lie is not discovered, the child is rewarded for lying by this non-discovery (that is, the lie is followed by something good, no punishment). Over time this new behaviour becomes a habit and is part of the child’s automatic responses, so that lies are told even when there is no reason for doing so. In some cases, a child may also learn to lie by modelling the behaviour of older individuals or may be trained to lie by unscrupulous adults.

Lack of Remorse for Lying

Children who lie compulsively generally show no remorse for lying because the behaviour has become so ingrained in their minds and feels natural, so they do not feel badly about it. Some children have also not yet developed a moral compass, which adds to the situation.

Low Self-Esteem

When children are punished harshly for doing wrong things, they eventually feel ashamed and worthless, especially if they are labelled negatively (for example by being called stupid, retarded, and dunce, etc). This becomes a vicious cycle, as the more they do wrong things, the more these labels are reinforced, the worse they feel, the more they hide their wrongdoing and the more they lie.

Poor Relationships and Isolation

When a child lies compulsively, he/she is eventually labelled as such. Another outcome of this behaviour is that other children refuse to play with them, resulting in isolation. They also get blamed for misdeeds they know nothing about because no one believes what they are saying (including parents and teachers) because they are known to lie, which adds to the shame, isolation, and low self-esteem they experience.

Fear of Facing the Truth

Children caught in the spiral of lying, being punished and low self-esteem are often afraid to face what they think may be the truth – that they are worth nothing. Children who also have ADHD may feel that they cannot help getting into trouble, talking out of turn, being restless, and ending up in mischief. These children may then be afraid to own their misbehaviour, which reinforces to them their failures and feelings of worthlessness.

Lying as an Addiction

Compulsive lying may become like that of an addiction in that the lie is more rewarding than the consequences.

Drug Use

Children who are involved in drug use are also likely to tell lies in order to cover their tracks.

What to Do:

Help Your Child to Understand

Help your child to understand that he has been telling lies and that it is wrong and will not be tolerated. Apply consequences whenever he lies.

Seek the Help of a Therapist

Assess for Mental Illness

Your child should be assessed by a psychologist or counsellor to rule out other mental illnesses which may be contributing to the disorder.

Counselling and Medication

Compulsive lying may be treated with counselling and medication.

Focus on Telling the Truth

The therapist will focus on helping your child to tell the truth using everyday situations and practising within a natural setting.

Motivate your Child to Want to Change

Therapy with your child will only be successful if he is motivated to change from telling lies to telling the truth, otherwise he will fabricate ‘truths’ during the sessions. Therefore, helping him to see the importance of telling the truth is crucial prior to the sessions. He should, therefore, not be coerced into attending the sessions, but should buy into it and see the need for change.

LM, since Compulsive Lying Disorder is complicated, it takes time and patience, so do not give up.

Life Coach

Need help with relationship and other problems? Ask DYNACII’s Life Coach. Email your questions to [email protected] To chat with the Life Coach, visit: Dynamic Action Center International Inc. (DYNACII) a non-governmental organization committed to social and spiritual empowerment.