Monday, August 6, 2012

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: The Three Kinds of Liars and How to Stop Them

by John and Diane. 

All kids lie sometimes. Little lies that don’t amount to much can be easily dealt with in normal families, usually. With the kids I have worked with in the juvenile justice system and now in foster care, lying has led to or been part of bigger problems including stealing, anger issues, impulsivity issues and other ways of acting out.

Through the years I have identified three basic kinds of kids who lie.

1.     Kids who lie by mistake. These kids might have learning difficulties or memory issues as a symptom or effect of another problem like fetal alcohol syndrome. They lie because they use the wrong words to explain what happened in an incident or situation.
2.     The Half-Truth teller. This is a manipulative kid who has all the right words to use to win an argument or explain away a situation.  They think they can talk and lie their way out of any situation. They think they are smarter than you, and that they can drive a wedge between parents or caregivers.
3.     The Defeated Liar. This is the child that will go along with a story or lie told by another child simply because he feels like he can’t ever win by telling the truth. He has lost so many “word fights” by trying to tell the truth in the past, that he just goes along with what the stronger child says, usually the Half-Truth Teller, and therefore gets in trouble in spite of his desire to tell the truth.

How to identify them:

The Kid Who Lies by Mistake:
·      When forced to talk about an incident the child will have a hard time describing the events correctly, consistently.
·      May not be able to tell you a correct time-line of events.
·      Will show frustration at his or her inability to correctly remember the events when questioned.

The Half Truth Teller:
·      Is never doing anything wrong, but the brother or sister is. (Blames others)
·      Does all the talking for the siblings or friends
·      Can tell lies with a straight face because he or she really doesn’t see that he or she is doing anything wrong.

The Defeated Liar
·      Waits for another child to start explaining an incident at question
·      Will say it doesn’t matter what he or she says because they will be punished anyway for the event.
·      May refuse to even explain the event.

How To Stop It

The Kid Who Lies By Mistake: 
·      Ask them the same question in different ways. Reword your questions until his face lights up and he says, “Yes! That’s it!” Be careful not to lead or give away the “right” answer, or you will taint the results and just teach the child to lie. You want to simply try to get to the truth of the situation and allow him to identify the actual state of affairs by wording it correctly for him. Once you get the accurate description, explain to him the difference between the accurate description he identified from what he initially said. This will help him learn how to express himself correctly and as you work with the child’s word skills, this type of lying behavior will disappear.

The Half-Truth Teller:
·      This is the hard one. I hope you caught him early on.  If he learns how to talk to adults and he is clean cut, Wow you have got problems! Run, run, run as fast as you can! This kid his headed for jail!  Ok, I know you need to help him, and he has good points you can use to but he must find out that you are smarter then he or she is and sometimes you must use his own tricks against him. 

He has to feel the pain of what his lies can do and the only way this can be done is by setting him up. If you’re lucky he has a sister or brother that can help you in this.  First you need to identify something he did wrong and that he doesn't think you know about.  It should be something small that you can turn into a big deal.  Stealing money is a good one.

So, for example: You know he took your money and you find the wallet empty.  You tell him he has to pay you back all the money in the wallet. Now you may have had only $5 in it but now you’ll say you had $35.  (I think the bible tells us it should be 7 times the amount or something like that.)   Now he is going to have a fit! 

“There was only $5 in the wallet!”

You just tell him, “No, there was $35 and you are paying it all back, or I will call the 911 and whose word are they going to believe? Yours or mine?  You stole the wallet out of my room. Who knows what else you have taking? You admitted it to me and (blank) heard you!”

Now, always have a witness to help you with this. When he gives up and feels the pain and says to you “you’re lying how can you do this to me?” you tell him you learned from him and then you share all the time he pulled this on you or others in the house and you get him to own up on it.

The trick here is not to own up to it too quickly. You want him to stew in it for a while to feel the pain.
He must understand that the truth is that he stole the wallet, and there was money in the wallet, and that the only thing in question was the amount, and that was what made it a half-truth. The half-truth would stick if you told a police officer. This teaches him that his half-truths hurt. You have to wait until he says he will pay you the $35 and accepts the consequences, bends and feels the pain of being truthful and no one believing him.  Then you can release him. 

He must feel the pain of being a victim of his own actions. You can tell him that “you just created an invisible jail around yourself, the lies that you use to get your way can be used on you, cause no one believes you anymore. You will be the one being locked up.” This will make an impact on him. Then he will know you are smarter than he is and he will remember the sting of being caught in his own lies.

If you’re going to try anything like this let your caseworker and counselor know before you try it. You can’t let the lies win. The consequences must outweigh the rewards from the lies. 

The Defeated Liar:
·      This is the easiest one to help. Let the child know that you are listening to him, give him chances to talk and reward good behavior. Help him to tell the truth and as his self-esteem comes back he will begin to start standing up for himself again and will be able to resist the pull of the stronger Half-Truth Teller child. You do need to know the truth before you talk to him about an incident. Having cameras in the house help with this, if you don’t have cameras, hopefully you have an honest family member who can tell you the truth.   The Bounty on Bad Behavior system works great as a support with this child.

image:  License
AttributionNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Zygia


  1. Thanks for the humorous parts, hehee! And very important information as well. In our training classes, we learned that lying is one of the biggest fears foster parents have because they feel there would be no bases for trust. But we were told it is to be expected. So we might as well learn how to deal with it.

    1. Yes, it is inevitable, in one way or another you are going to run into either an impulsive liar or a manipulative one, so you have to be a bit least be wise enough to question things at first until you learn the child's history and get to know his or her "tells."
      Thanks for commenting and reading Gabriela!
      John and Diane