Hi Naomi! My 6 year old son has been lying more and more lately. He lies about bedwetting, food etc… We don’t get mad at him when he wets the bed which is VERY rare anyway. My husband and I don’t know why he does it. I said to him once with calm loving energy, that he wasn’t telling mommy the truth and it is ok to tell me the truth, and he started crying like he felt bad. Is this just a phase or are we doing something to set this up??
A child lies if he is afraid to tell the truth. He can develop such fear even when we are not punitive or angry. He can easily get the impression that we expect perfection or disprove of certain behaviors. The child is then intimidated and would rather lie than lose love and approval (in his mind.) Critical attitude, praise, your ways with your spouse and your reactions to your child’s successes and failures can easily cause him to feel unsafe to tell the truth or express his feelings.
If your child plays with children, goes to a school or participates in group activities, he could be learning to lie from another child, or from the teacher’s attitude. But, since he is lying to you, most likely it is, at least partially, a result of your ways with him and with others around him.
When you told your child that it is safe to tell the truth he started unleashing his anxiety with tears. I therefore suspect that he is not feeling free to express his feelings fully. Do your best to bring these tears back next time, and then to validate, “Are you afraid that I would not be happy with you when your bed is wet?” Listen, Validate (SALVE formula from chapter one of my book) and then listen some more. Be affectionate and reassure him that you understand his anxiety and that you love him with wet or dry bed. Tell him he can wet the bed every night (or whatever else he hides from you) and you would be happy and love him. Tell him that you love and adore him, no matter what he does or says. He must feel completely safe to tell you what drives his fear.
Make sure to model that telling the truth is safe and show forgiveness and joy with what happens. If your spouse is late or forgot to get you something from the store, have a light and forgiving attitude, “Oh, well, I guess I am not supposed to have it today.” Be easy and humorous about losses caused by others, about imperfections and deviations from original plans, “Whatever happens is always what I want.”
Another source of anxiety can be praise. Be sure not to praise your child so he doesn’t equate your love and his value with being perfect or achieving something. You can join his joy when he is please with himself, but do not lead him to rely on your reactions in order to be pleased with himself. Let him feel and see that no one measures or evaluates him. He must be free of the need for approval.
Wetting the bed can be related to anxiety in the first place, so as rarely as it occurs, it tells you to pay attention to your child’s sense of safety and of his possible anxiety about his worth. Please reread chapter four “Emotional Safety” in my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.
If you feel that your child’s anxiety is not related to the issues I have suggested, you may want to set up a phone session with me to resolve this issue: