Why does my step-daughter lie?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have a 10 year old step daughter soon to be 11 and me and my husband are at wits end with her. She is a compulsive liar. We got a phone call from our local social services cause there had been a report of abuse and come to find out she told some girls at school that she had a bump on her head from her mom hitting her and my thoughts were she hasn’t seen her mom so she must mean me. Of course when they checked into it further there was no bump and she admitted to lying about it, but this was her reasoning for it “I was trying to make friends”. We have sole legal sole physical custody of her so she no longer has any contact with her mother. The reason for this is her mother neglected her and only thought of herself. Her mother had many boyfriends around her while she was growing up had sex in front of her and numerous other things we probably have no clue about so that is why we pushed for the custody to get her the hell out of that home. And after all that she still seems to think her real mom is god or something. In January we got a phone call from school that she made up a lie that one of her aunts had conjoined twins and she was collecting donations for the separation and of course your probably thinking right now where did that come from. When we confronted her about it she said she never said that it’s not true but when we drilled her more and more on it we finally got our answer and here it was again “I was just trying to make friends”. I am just wondering if you can tell me what the heck is going on and why is she doing this it seems to be an everyday thing with her if it’s not a small lie it’s a HUGE one. Do you have any clue what could maybe be going on doctors keep saying send her to a therapist before she’s totally out of control well we have tried that for the last year and it is not helping. Please give us some good advice to help us out.

A: One of the amazing things about kids is that they love their parents — no matter how abusive, violent, rejecting, or unfit. Your step daughter lived with her mom a big percentage of her life. During that time, she was dependent on her. Who knows what threats and bribes her mother used to keep her quiet or what she learned to do to get any attention at all. Kids don’t have a basis for comparison. As far as she knew, her mom’s way of life is just the way it is. For her, life that is more normal is foreign and confusing.
My guess is that you have a very hurt kid on your hands who is torn about who to be loyal to and who is confused about right and wrong. If her mom neglected her and kept her isolated from kids her own age, she never learned how to either get adult nurturing or make friends.

You are only 25. My other guess is that you don’t have a whole lot of experience dealing with a traumatized child. That’s certainly not any fault of yours but it does present you with some pretty big challenges. Your step daughter needs a great many remedial life lessons, more than you probably bargained for. Drilling her and confronting her clearly doesn’t work. You probably need some support and coaching to find what will.

Your step-daughter needs lots and lots of positive attention. She needs to be “caught” whenever she does anything right, however small. She needs special time with you and her dad every day. She also probably needs an opportunity to talk about the confusion in her loyalties without feeling like she is letting you or her dad down or abandoning her bio-mom. That’s what a therapist is for. If you’ve had her in therapy for a year and you think it isn’t helping, please make an appointment for you and your husband to go in and see the therapist to talk about it. It may be that she or he needs more information from you or that you need some help applying what she learns in theapy into your daily lives. It could also be that you don’t have the right therapist for this particular problem. (Everyone isn’t good at everything.) If you don’t feel comfortable with the progress that is being made, you are always entitled to get a second opinion.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 May 2007

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2007). Why does my step-daughter lie?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/05/19/why-does-my-step-daughter-lie/

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