Q. Dear Bracha,

Lately I've been catching my child making up stories and telling lies. When I confront him, he just gets upset and denies it. I've heard him lying to his younger sister and lying to his friends. It's gotten to the point that I really don't trust him with anything he tells me. How should I be handling this?

A. You have presented a very difficult question that is only superseded by its importance. Being truthful is a core personality trait and as such, if not developed can lead to a distortion in personality and relationships. Even though you do not tell me the age of your son, the way to handle this problem does not change very much for children under the age of 10, and can be modified for older children as the premise is still valid.

Explain this as an issue of trust. Trust can be emotionally understood at a very young age.

What has to be understood in a child with regards to telling lies is that the "logical consequences" of this behavior are not apparent and will not impress a child. Therefore explaining things in a "logical" context, or telling him it is wrong, is usually not effective. What does help is explaining this as an issue of trust. Trust can be emotionally understood at a very young age. A link between your (a parent's) ability to trust what he says and his consistency in being honest can easily be made. Give this some thought as to how you wish to work this in your family. Make it clear that a person must be honest all the time, or else he is considered untrustworthy all the time. Honesty is an all or nothing deal.

Establish a program that makes the consequences of being untrustworthy real. For example are there tasks in your home that are perceived positively such as bringing in the mail or carrying Mom's purse? Perhaps your son will have to lose privileges as he is no longer trustworthy. How could Mom be sure that her purse will be cared for properly? You would not relieve him of chores or he may feel that this is working out for the best! Instead you will take careful stock of what is going on in your house; small and large, creating your angle that will impress your son the most.

Above all, make it clear that you have caught him being untruthful and he, himself is responsible for the loss of trust and must earn it back. You should also give consequences when he is caught lying, such as immediately cancelling computer privileges for that day, when caught in a lie. Having to do a chore that his sister was suppose to do that day, because he lied to her. Immediate consequences being most effective. Talk it over with your spouse and decide on a plan of action, but what ever you decide stick with it and don't back down.

Decrease the interaction with your children when they are displaying negative behavior.

There is one more thing I wish to mention, children get reward through negative behavior by means of the increased attention that they receive from their parents. That means to decrease reward for that behavior you must decrease the interaction with your children when they are displaying negative behavior. So, in this case you have already explained to him that lying is wrong, he doesn't need to hear it again. Keep all communication and anything that acts as attention to a minimum when interacting with him over his lying. In other words as far as possible no touch, eye contact or talking with him other than a very short (5 words) instructional phrase.

It is not always clear how these things start, what is clear is that when something like this happens our children need us to give them strong guide lines and stand firm until they develop positive habits and traits. Wishing you and all your family the best!