Why Does He Lie?

I have a 9 1/2 year old stepson, who lives with his mom and stepdad. My husband and I see him 1-2 days per week. He has been caught lying over the last few weeks, e.g not doing homework and saying he has, saying he’s eaten his lunch and it is found discarded in the yard, saying he is not to bring his yugiyo cards to a friend’s house and says he hasn’t). The adults have really been upset and he has been grounded for several weeks now. I feel we need to look for a trigger (like increased pressure at school, him getting B’s and C+’s on his report card and b/c that he’s ‘smart” this not being acceptable; wanting to play with peers and not wanting to do homework or eat lunch).

I am really concerned that all the adults are putting way too much pressure on him and treating this as such a huge issue. I may be waaaayy off here but I’m really concerned that we are getting way to overinvolved? Any help would be incredibly appreciated.

I agree with you that the adults are making the problem worse by escalating punishments because he lies. Children lie in order to avoid punishment. If your stepson is punished more and more, he will lie more and more.

Lying to avoid consequences occurs because the discipline is too harsh for minor misbehaviors such as not doing homework. In a healthy family, natural consequences are used. If homework isn’t finished, it’s up to the child to choose between getting a bad mark, staying up late, or getting up early to finish the homework. This child has no reason to lie, and he will probably do his homework, because it’s his homework, not his parents’ responsibility. In a family where the parents need to control everything, the child is grounded from seeing his friends for a weekend if his homework isn’t done. Seeing his friends is very important to him, so he’ll lie about his homework, and he’ll think it’s up to his parents to see that he gets his homework done. By taking responsibility for something that is up to the child, and by imposing harsh consequences when natural consequences were already available, the parents have set the stage for the child to lie.

Your stepson’s need is to be treated with respect and kindness, as someone who can make his own decisions and does not need to be punished severely for minor infractions. If he doesn’t do his homework, he can choose between staying up late to do it (and getting tired), or getting a bad mark. The bad mark is itself a consequence for a smart kid, and the parents don’t need to do anything more about it.

A lot of parents really worry about their children getting bad marks. It is important to help our children establish good work habits while they are young. But then, once we have done this, we need to leave it up to them unless they have serious learning disabilities. And we need to remember that contrary to what we believed when we are children, a mark on a piece of paper shouldn’t be regarded as a reward or punishment or an indicator of our status or our intelligence. We need to encourage our kids to love learning, not to love marks. There’s a difference. Also, if we make our children’s school performance our personal goal, it will be ours rather than theirs and they will expect us to take responsibility for it.

If the boy throws out his lunch, he goes hungry. That’s a natural consequence, and no grounding is necessary. I don’t see why he can’t take his cards to a friend’s house – if he forgets them there, he loses them as a natural consequence of his behaviour, and he will learn from that. The rule is too strict. The boy has to learn from the natural consequences of his behaviour, not from being grounded again and again.

This said, you are in a delicate position as a stepmother. I don’t know whether the child’s mother and stepfather are likely to listen to your opinions. Perhaps you could suggest that all four of you take a parenting course together so you can learn together how to handle this kind of thing.