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When a child lies there a few common reasons why they may be doing this:

  1. To see what happens
  2. because it is fun to tell stories that they don't really realize are lies
  3. to get someone else in trouble
  4. to get themselves out of trouble

How would one go about disciplining these lies (assuming you realize they are lies)? Let's say we are talking about ages 4-8. After that lying is a much more serious issue and must be dealt with, I imagine, in a different way.

Related to number 4, I have heard the theory that whatever the consequence would be for the action they are lying about is doubled. I'd welcome any other suggestions, especially for the other three reasons listed.

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I like the idea of doubling the consequence; it directly makes telling the truth the lesser evil (but not being found out still beats it). –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 3 '12 at 19:03
    
Torben it does still beat it, but that's only if the kid thinks it's an option. If I as a parent can get them to believe, undeniably, that I will ferret out any lie, then trying to get away with a lie decreases in value to the point that double or nothing simply isn't worth it. –  monsto Jan 4 '12 at 18:36
    
@balancedmama The blog no longer seems to have that article. Do you happen to remember its contents? I would appreciate you posting your thoughts as an answer. –  called2voyage Jan 9 at 20:54
    
@called2voyage I've placed the basics of the article as an answer to parenting.stackexchange.com/a/10979/2876 because it relates more closely to toddlers lying, however, ultimately, the idea of the "second consequence" would definitely still apply, and many things useful with a toddler, can be adapted for use with older children as well - I think you may find some of the concepts I mention helpful too. –  balanced mama Jan 10 at 7:04
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3 Answers

Classify the lie as consequential or inconsequential.

Consequential lie causes a harm and creates a problem. In this case do the following steps:

  1. Explain clearly what the lie has caused.
  2. Ask the child to admit the truth.
  3. Ask the child to apologize to all affected parties.
  4. Ask the child to remedy the damage (with your help).

The embarrassment and the pain of going through the above steps is sufficient disciplining.

Inconsequential lie is an insult to the other person's intelligence. It negatively affects the trust and the relationship. This must be explained and demonstrated in the interactions with the lying child. Children are very sensitive to affections and the lack of. The child will learn that lying is taken seriously and reflects back on the child's social relationships.

For 4-8 years old children, I don't recommend any disciplining stronger than the above.

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You have a couple good answers about the punishment side of discipline, just don't forget about the reward side as well. If they're honest about something without having to be interrogated, go lenient on them, or even let it slide with just a discussion and a promise from them to do better. It works amazingly well, so much that we've had to be careful not to go too far the other way. For example, my son who had been lying about pooping his pants ended up proudly announcing it instead of stopping doing it. One problem at a time though, right? :-)

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I like Ali's answer in the context of the 4yo.

However, an 8yo is greatly different. An 8yo has a much broader understanding of the world, social expectations and contracts placed upon them, and should understand specific definitions of Right and Wrong. A 4yo barely understands that other people can have ownership of things, too. An 8yo can understand the lesson in Cars (basic respect towards other people) that isn't explicitly spelled out in skywriting.

If you're talking abotu an 8yo that told a 1-off lie about something that could really get them into hot water, then I would suggest dealing with the fact that they lied and move on. Ali's list above would work well, I think.

However, an 8yo that lies regularly is a problem beyond in/consequence. even inconsequential lies are consequential at that point. I would recommend going back to the drawing board and attempting to establish what the real problem is and whether or not they understand socially Right and Wrong. Either way, it's probably time to seek a professional.

Appropriate discipline? Man, you know your kids better than I do. What has worked for me with all 5 of my kids is spanking. The only time they get the hand is if they lie. Consequently it rarely happens. 1x a year maybe... matter of fact, i don't think i had to spank the 8 at all in 2011.

But again: your kids. What works for me may (probably) not work for you.

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