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My elder daughter (8 years old) is in 3rd grade. Couple of girls bullied her during the end of 2nd grade. This year has been uneventful since last weekend. She told us an elaborate story involving one of the girls who bullied her in 2nd grade. Since we know that girl's parents we reached out to them and to her teacher to find out what's going on. At the end, the whole story is a total lie. Both me and my wife are still in utter shock. My daughter knows we value honesty above everything in our house. She doesn't understand the gravity of the mistake she has done. This incident has shook the confidence I had in her.

All the articles I have been reading online says its normal for kids this age to spin a story that's totally untrue. Deep down somewhere I feel something happened in the past year or so, which must have triggered this whole new phase in her. I'm examining myself too. Wondering if my parenting style basically made her lie. I'm the kind of guy who asks a lot of questions and I'm slightly strict.

I've been pondering a lot on how to get her in the path to being honest. Any advices or tips?

  • If you don't mind, can you give a few details about the story she made up? Has anything else of consequence (to her) happened recently that you know of? Can you expand on "asks a lot of questions and I'm slightly strict"? Thanks! – anongoodnurse Dec 14 '16 at 22:54
  • My first intuitive thought is that she was trying to get your attention and entertain you. Maybe your way of asking questions (strict and detailed?) triggered her to tell a story, just to make you happy instead of boring you because nothing exciting happened. Would you accept a "Nothing happened today."? – daraos Dec 15 '16 at 6:24
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    How can you be sure it was a lie? Isn't it also possible that the bully is smart and subtle enough not to leave traces? The story might still be embellished, but how can you be sure that there is nothing to it? – user7019377 Dec 15 '16 at 12:01
  • "How can you be sure it was a lie?" -- With the help of her teacher, we spoke to all the characters she involved in her story and none said any of what my daughter told us happened. "Isn't it also possible that the bully is smart and subtle enough not to leave traces?" --- the bullying incident happened last school year. And that got resolved at that time itself. We taught our daughter on how to talk back to the bullying girl. Though she kept coming back, my daughter got confident. I was able to witness the change in my daughter after she stood up for herself. – yasouser Dec 15 '16 at 18:59
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Without knowing you or your daughter I'd have to say that my gut reaction is: Could she be suffering from a self-esteem issue? Her own experiences do not seem worthy or exciting enough (to her), so she feels the need to embellish or make stuff up.

You could try building her up and noticing the little accomplishments. This isn't a fake or 'over the top' response. You say things like, "I have noticed that you are doing a good job looking after your hair." "That was so interesting what your teacher said. What do you think about it?" Asking her opinion is an easy way to build esteem.

If you think she is lying, you could try ignoring it completely. She tells an embellished or made-up story and you turn away and do something else -- zero response. She isn't in trouble but she gets no reward at all. Keep in mind that if she is attention-seeking that negative responses are easier for her to trigger from you. Here the 'trick' is not to give her the negative. It seems counter-intuitive but it isn't. People nearly always respond to a negative situation but often do not respond when everything seems status quo.

You could look for books and stories about kids that lie and how much better it is when they don't. You can then talk it over without confronting her on her lies or embellishments. Here are some books. Many will be in the school or local library.

The 'problem' with confrontation is that it is scary and many people, not just children, will lie if they think they can stop that uncomfortable feeling. So for me, making it less about confrontation and more about praise for telling the truth is the key to success.

This is likely a phase. I hope that it will pass quickly. Best of luck!

  • I don't know how you came up with this, but you are correct about the low self-esteem. Even though she is quite well talented for her age, she thinks low of herself. Thank you so much for the wonderful collection of books on honesty. I was looking for those too. Because sometimes she learns better from books than me trying to tell/teach her. – yasouser Dec 21 '16 at 23:09
  • @yasouser Happy to help if I am able to. I taught kids for 30+ years, have a Masters in Social work and another in Special Education, so I've seen a bit. – WRX Dec 21 '16 at 23:11
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It can be difficult to provide a clear answer without spending a lot of time getting to know you and your family. The best way to stop lying in my house will not be the same as yours. However, from your word choices, I can see what looks like a path forward. Feel free to have your own opinion on it.

The key phrasing for me was "My daughter knows we value honesty above everything in our house." Now from a philosophical perspective, one can argue that we never know what someone else is thinking. You assert that your daughter knows you value honesty, and its totally valid to make that assertion. You may even be right. However, it is in conflict with the evidence. She's acting in a way which challenges that assumption. This, to me, points in a direction to start digging.

It's entirely possible that, in your house, you'd really rather her murder someone than lie about something. Who am I to judge? Far more likely than that extreme outcome is that you actually have a rather complicated set of values in your house. I don't know a household today that doesn't have a complicated set of values, so this wouldn't be all that unusual. In such a situation, your daughter may not be interpreting your priorities in values the same way you think she is. The easiest way for two people to fail to communicate is to start from faulty assumptions. It's best to make sure you give enough time to clarify these along the way.

Of course, this is also the kind of topic that is really hard to talk about. What you need is time. You need to give time for you and her to communicate on this topic.

This incident has shook the confidence I had in her.

I think your opportunity lies here. Step 1 will be repairing your confidence in her. Easier said than done, right? In theory, she should be the one who has to act to repair your confidence right? Well, that is the normal course of things, but you're a parent. You get stuck doing things because your kid doesn't. That's the name of the game.

Consider trying to adjust your own mind such that, instead of having your confidence shaken, you still have your confidence in her, but it is under attack. Something (i.e. this event) is in the process of shaking your confidence. This shift can be hard, but it opens a door for her. Damage that is done is done, but damage that is in the process of being done can be responded to. Give her something worth responding to. Show her how this event is destabilizing your confidence. Let her feel what it will do to your relationship -- not in one big slug, but slowly in a steady way which lets her feel just how bad it is. She doesn't need to comprehend the depth of the hole she needs to get out of, but she does need to be able to feel how steep the walls are, and how far the edge is away.

Finally, be flexible about the outcome. You and I both know you don't want your confidence in her shaken. You want this thing to be resolved. Be flexible. I mentioned earlier the assertion "My daughter knows we value honesty above everything in our house." Maybe your confidence can get a boost from you better understanding what your daughter really knows. Maybe you don't get to the point where you feel she will always be perfectly honest, but you gain some other unifying factor which neither of you even thought to look for until you started looking. People are complicated, and if we had all the answers when we started, where would the fun be?

I can't say its a full solution for a lying daughter, but the path has some merits. Most of the things that need to be done at first are done by you, to you. You start out on a path that's independent of her, and only as you communicate does the work shift more and more towards her. This gives you control over your life, and I have a feeling that's a big thing for you right now!

My prediction would be that, if your daughter can see that she can't disturb your inner calm with her life choices, but does have to answer for them when the bell tolls, you and her will come to an agreeable solution.

  • I'm still re-reading your answer. Its loaded. Let me explain what I meant by "This shook my confidence in her" statement: until this incident, I had the faith that she won't lie and even if she did she will come and tell us about it. She has done that before. Looking back at the way she carried herself while telling the story to us, I'm dumb found now. That made me think "is she the same girl who came and confessed to me about the lies she told me when she realized that she made the mistake?". – yasouser Dec 15 '16 at 7:57
  • In the back of my mind, there's this thought whether she is telling me the truth or not. I hate this feeling of doubting what my own daughter says. Like you said, my wife also told me, that the shock is making us look at the whole thing wrongly. Even though this happened, we should still keep the same confidence and show her how much we love and care for her. And slowly that love will make her realize. – yasouser Dec 15 '16 at 8:01
  • I enjoy philosophy, so I can be a bit of an odd one. I find comfort in odd places. In the philosophy of language, it is recognized that we can perfectly convey words to another, but we can never perfectly convey the meaning of those words. You can never perfectly instill your values in another human being, because they aren't you; they are their own person. However, despite this being a universal of the human condition, we still find children that grow up to be beautiful, smart, honest people, so there's hope there! And there's a really good chance that your daughter's concept... – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Dec 15 '16 at 14:55
  • ... of truth is actually quite close to yours. You may just need to listen to her, and help her convey her meaning of truth to you as best as she can. Then you may be able to find the way to nudge her meaning back to yours, or you may find that she found something important that you didn't know you needed. There's real joy in the student teaching the teacher. – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Dec 15 '16 at 14:58
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Lies should be addressed and debunked immediately, even if it means saying you'll involve third parties who are part of the lie before ACTUALLY involving them (i.e. "Donna's mom said I can spend the night over her house!" Come back with "Okay, I'll call her now and ask her what time she wants you to be there." Immediately, the child sees a danger of you learning the truth and will usually fold).

That being said, 8 year olds are imaginative. Channel that imagining into something like painting, drawing, building. Allow them to make up things but in the form of crafts and art. Spend at least an hour a day channeling their imagination towards things like that. That gives them an outlet. You'll soon notice the lies aren't as frequent. The child has creative outlets now and does not need to make things up as often.

Give both a try. You'll be surprised. But don't lose faith in your child.

  • She does write a lot. She writes a journal, a book and to her diary. Sometimes its my casual comment on something affects her a lot :( – yasouser Dec 21 '16 at 23:10
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    Well writing is a gift and one that can be harnessed in so many ways!!! Does she have younger siblings or kids she's close to who are younger than her? Maybe she can write a children's book for them. Asia Argento published her first book of poems at that age – user25770 Dec 22 '16 at 2:36
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If your confidence in your daughter telling the truth is shaken: Well, you are an adult. Live with it.

Your daughter has been bullied. I'd say that has likely not caused any damage, but she took an opportunity for revenge. A totally normal thing to do. The bully behaved badly towards your daughter, without any justification, and probably without any consequences for the bully. Your daughter did strike back to create consequences for the bully.

Maybe you failed to teach your daughter how to handle a bully, so she did her best to figure it out herself. Not the best way to do it, for sure, but you didn't teach her a better way.

You say you value honesty above everything else. Maybe a bullied child just doesn't agree with you. The highest priority isn't honesty, her highest priority is not to be abused by a bully, and when it happens, hurt them back. You need to support her. Your priority must be the wellbeing of your child, not your own ideals.

And I don't know how you reacted to the situation, I just hope that you didn't take the bully's side. Your daughter needs to know that you are behind her and support her. Whatever she does. If her confidence in the support of her parents is shaken, that's bad. She is an eight year old child. You are an adult. You need to protect her, that's your highest priority, and act as an adult.

  • "Maybe you failed to teach your daughter how to handle a bully, so she did her best to figure it out herself. Not the best way to do it, for sure, but you didn't teach her a better way." --- the bullying incident happened last school year and it got resolved. This is incident is no way connected to that. Btw, we did teach her how to deal with it and the bullying stopped soon after that. – yasouser Dec 15 '16 at 19:36
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8 year old child will absouletly believe what u are saying to him or her.The best trick you can do that tell them that if u tell alie ever there a black spot appear on your face which can easily tell to every one that u are telling alie and if u are honest GOD will gives you reward always.

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    Sorry, but every 8yo I know would see this as total BS and not believe a word of it. And everyone with a random mole or other perfectly harmless spot being labeled as liar? This can be dangerous if for some reason the child actually did believe that nonsense. I can’t see how some vague fear or promises of divine rewards would work in this case. – Stephie Nov 11 '18 at 12:41

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