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Middle Childhood » Discipline and Guidance

Ten Year Old Lying

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Dear Dr. Susan:

My stepson is 10 years old.  He has started lying recently about headaches. He only gets these headaches,

  1. At school when he does not want to do an assignment
  2. When he is somewhere other than home and does not get his way.

This happens once or twice a month. I thought there was a medical reason for his headaches, but now I know there isn’t. What can we do about him lying to us and school about these headaches? Thank you for your time.


Dear Elly:

Thank you for writing to me.  I must give you fairly general information because your relationship with your stepson, his personality and temperament all have so much to do with his habits and his way of learning. However, I will provide very critical normal developmental information related to boys and girls seven to ten yeas of age! I want to share this with you, and then be sure to write back if you need more ideas or if these don’t seem to fit your son’s pattern or your family situation.

In a nutshell, 7-10 year-old kids figure out at this age, to their amazement, that no one, not parents, friends’ relatives or teachers, can read their minds! Up until this age, they think parents are complete mind-readers, knowing every thought they have. This early belief system develops kids’ self-control, conscience and ethics within themselves. Then, amazingly, they discover that their thoughts, ideas and fantasies are theirs and theirs alone!

This social and intellectual advancement makes all kids smarter and cleverer…They sincerely believe that their little and big lies will be believed and that they can put anything over on any one and get away with it…this is not malicious, mean or devious, but it is part of growing up. Suddenly, 7-10  year-olds are very full of themselves, whether shy or outgoing; they are full of themselves and start testing limits like they did when they were toddlers! This inflated view of their self-importance and mental private life, actually solidifies self-control, self-assurance and self confidence, so long as they are guided back to the truth and nothing but the truth!

Since parents and stepparents must be absolutely in charge because this age group is not mature in any sense of the word, parents have a big responsibility to teach kids truth-talk. First, model the truth by telling it and talking to your stepson about how hard it is to stick to the truth, even for adults. Give him examples. Discuss it.

Discuss television, video games, and the whole gambit. We do not have a very truthful society to say the least. Point out how lying, exaggerating, faking it, tantruming and other behaviors are done to get attention from kids who watch television every day, but they are not okay in everyday family life at all! What your stepson needs to hear over and over and over is that you suspect his exaggerations might actually be “telling lies” and that you will not permit that to occur.

Maintain a calm voice and try not to put your stepson on the defensive, accusing him or shaming him. He knows it is a lie! You only need to remind him that every time it happens, you will have long talks about it, until he changes his mind and shares what he is feeling and what really happened. Tell him that talking is the only way to resolve the problem and that you intend to take the time to resolve it, no matter how long it takes. Try to avoid negative consequences because telling the truth, gently dealt with, gives him the confidence to tell you the truth next time.

Here is one way to speed up the process of talking until you get the result you want: (acknowledge he is feeling something) ask him in a quiet but surprised voice, “what? Why don’t you think of a video tape…rewind the tape and tell me another version of the stomach ache story. Where and what are you feeling? Continue: “You may really feel sick, but that is not true. Rewind the tape, tell me again and try to get the story closer to what you are feeling.” If he doesn’t give up easily, he is covering for the sense of guilt and shame and pride.

Respect that. Just sigh, and start over; or go get coffee, and get him a drink and start again. You need to gently and without anger, crack the case open at this age! If you run into repeated refusals, don’t give up but don’t punish. Remember his self-confidence is at stake and a lifetime of self-esteem is a good thing! But, within a day or so, maybe on a Saturday when he might rather be going somewhere else, take a mystery trip to visit the pediatrician, after prepping her about the lies and asking her to continue to talk about truth and honesty without your present.

If this is not an option, wait no longer than a day or so, and, yes, bring it up again,  picking a time when he has something more fun planned. Tell him you know this is a disappointment, but he hasn’t cleared up the situation about the stomach ache, and start again, reminding him of rewinding the tape again. After two or three scenarios like this, he will be able to give up this habit in favor of more fun and normal rewards like time with his friends and rewards for family activities. I bet you already can identify all your stepson’s abilities, talents and skills, so get this little issue resolved and you will be able to trust him the rest of his life! What a gift you are giving him….

Susan H. Turben, Ph.D.

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