Children and Lying: When You Know What They Did

Children and Lying: When You Know What They Did

George Washington might have said, "I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree," but I'm not sure about that. Humans have an inborn tendency to lie to protect themselves. We’ve all done it. When our brain senses any form of threat, it switches off good thinking and goes into defensive mode. Kids are no different.

How Parents Get Kids to Lie

So, how do we get kids to lie? It’s easy. Just ask them questions such as:

  • Did you brush your teeth?
  • Did you talk back to your teacher?
  • Did you use my tools without permission?
  • Did you hit your little brother?

Wise parents abandon the fantasy that their kids never tell lies. They don't tempt their kids to lie by asking questions that the parent already knows the answer to.

When Parents Know What Their Child’s Behavior Was

Let’s look at Rex and his mom. Rex had been terrorizing the other 5th graders at school. The other kids were beginning to refuse to play anywhere near him during recess.

Rex's teacher was often convinced that he was behind most problems that happened when her back was turned. She explained it to his mother one day with, "I never see him cause a problem, but when there is one, he's the kid who knows all the details and looks more innocent than anyone else."

Finally, the playground supervisor saw him punch one of the girls from behind, knocking her to the ground. However, when she was told about this, his mother refused to believe the story. Her response was, "I asked Rex if he did it, and he said no. I have to believe my child."

Mom fell into a trap occupied by many parents who don't realize that it is human nature to deny responsibility. The best way to get anyone to lie is to ask, "Did you do that?"

What’s the solution?

Once you know something happened, don't ask your child if he/she did it. Instead, state what you know happened and that you are going to have to do something about that.

Let’s look at what Rex’s mom would say using this approach.

Mom: "Rex, I know that you hit the girl. I'm going to have to do something about it."

Rex: "But I didn't do it."

Ironically, most kids will still try to protect themselves with a lie: "But I didn't do that."

Mom: "We're not talking about that. We're talking about the fact that I'm going to do something about that."

Rex: "But I didn't."

Mom: "So what are we talking about?"

Notice that this wise parent is not giving the time of day to the kid's attempts to lie. If this child continues to argue, the parent might use the Energy Drain technique.

Mom: "This arguing is causing me an energy drain. Are you sure it's worth it to you? Thanks for understanding. We’ll talk later.” (Mom walks away).

Later, Rex’s mom will follow up with the Energy Drain technique. With a healthy dose of empathy, she will expect Rex to replace her energy by completing extra chores, staying home from an activity so that she can restore her energy instead of driving Rex around, etc. He will start learning that lying, and arguing, will result in consequences for him.

This situation is one in which the parent was certain about the kid's behavior. In next week’s blog, we will look at times when parents don’t know what their child’s behavior was. For more tips on how to help kids develop a sense of responsibility, listen to our our audio, Oh Great! What Do I Do Now?.


Jim Fay

Oh Great! What Do I Do Now?

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