Compulsive lying in children
Children lie. They just learn it. Children exaggerate, twist the truth, hide the facts, manufacture stories, and deny the obvious. This behavior is easily swept away from parental conscious as it doesn’t show till it doesnt show evil effects.
A matter of grave concern is a child who lies frequently. This psychological pattern is medically termed as Compulsive Lying. Once its onset, it not only works as catalyst to destroy the bond of trust between a child and parents, but also makes him susceptible to follow a future path of unruly and dishonest living.
Once it has been assimilated into a child’s personality it becomes increasingly difficult to stop it. This further catapults a child to experiment with socially unacceptable issues like addictions, adventurous sexual behavior and psychological instability.
Why should a parent be concerned about lying?
Scientific research over the last 50yrs has carried out millions of MRI scans, EEG, and brain mapping tests to find that "lying" is produced by activity in the frontal lobe of the brain. Therefore, Compulsive lying becomes an early symptom of hyperactive frontal lobe functioning.
It’s also an early symptom that indicates an underlying medical problem. Most commonly such a behavior can be associated with following cases:
a. AD or Attention deficit disorder
b. ADHD or attention deficit hyperactive disorder
c. Conduct Disorder
d. Childhood depression
e. Anxiety/stress – this is a spectrum of conditions. The most common forms of anxiety are:
1. Overtly dominant and abusive parent
2. Overtly dominant and abusive class teacher,
3. Overtly dominant and abusive class mate/ bully
4. Living in an hostile environment
5. Adjustment disorder with environment- a child studying in a higher or lower socio-economic class school might lie to make friends.
6. Family Stress- broken homes, constant fights between parents, fight between various family members.
Behaviors patterns associated with compulsive lying?
Compulsive lying slowly succeeds in introducing socially unacceptable behavioral changes within the personality of a child. The success of compulsive lying triggers a child’s mind to use the same technique in socially inadequate behavior patterns like :
3. aggression or violent temper tantrums,
4. skipping school,
5. constantly losing items,
6. inattentiveness or decreased concentration which leads to decreased marks in class.
7. discomfort with social situations
8. poor behavior among groups, social settings or with authority figures.
Children who start to show any of the above erroneous behavioral patterns, are most susceptible to fall prey of anti-social activities in their near future. Such children are known to be easily attracted to addictions, multiple sexual adventures, relationship problems, uncontrollable anger, mood instability and criminal activities (like conning, stealing and even murder).
Why does compulsive lying happen?
There are still some fundamental reasons why children lie compulsively.
1. Fear. Fear is a common motivator for lying. Such fear may be rational or irrational, but the effect of lying is similar - a temporary shelter from punishment.
2. Habit. Lying can also become a habit formed through constant practice. In such cases “lying becomes a reflex”, and when confronted with any situation, their first response is a lie. Habitual lying is often strengthened by hostile confrontation.
One of the most effective ways of dealing with habitual lying is to give the child an opportunity to retract the lie without fear of consequences.
3. Psychological Modeling. Children can learn to lie through experiencing others lie.
One potent source of modeling, is from within the home. "Moderate" lying is thought of by many parents as harmless (such as a "white" lie, or a "harmless excuse") or mistakes (such as an unkept promise), or even purposeful and calculated distortions of the truth ("I had to lie because..."). Since the mind of a child can judge a situation as black or white, he doesn’t comprehend the “Grey” area where such a harmless behavior should be used.
The second most powerful source of modeling is friends circle or classmates. Unfortunately pressurizing a child to choose only friends of parental-choice can lead to decreased development of social skills.
4. Overprediction. Children also lie because they overpredict a reaction. I had seen a case where the child lied because he predicted behavior patterns of his parents and teachers based on his knowledge of the same.
How to Deal with it?
Dealing with compulsive lying is a tricky job for most parents. It requires a step-wise control.
Step 1- Realize compulsive lying is a serious problem. – most parents and society term it as “naughty behavior”, leaving it unattended for years together. It’s important to remember that it not only can develop distorted behavioral patterns, but give rise to future conditions like relationships problems, addictions, anti-social behavior and adjustments disorders.
“prevention is the best cure”
Step 2- Identify the social, emotional and psychological causes leading to such behavior.
Step 3- Sit and talk with your child. Remember one talk won’t change things. You need to develop a communication bridge and slowly introduce the concept of honesty.
Step 4- Make certain ground rules about lying for the child to follow.
Step 5- If the child breaks the ground rules, punish him. Punishment should be firm, more directed to bring psychological change and above all humane.
If after all your efforts the child doesn’t show any improvement, and you receive complains of certain behavioral problems arising due to it, immediately consult your local psychiatrist/psychologist to identify the deeper conscious/unconscious nuances of the problem. ( remember a psychiatrist/psychologist don’t treat mad people, but treat distorted emotional, behavioral and psychological patterns).
If you know of some kid who is suffering from such a problem, do help him get on the right path.
Dr.Hemant Mittal (MBBS, PGDPM)