Why kids lie and what to do
By RICHARD CURWIN AND ALLEN MENDLER
We hope these suggestions are helpful, and should you decide to make a comment, please tell the truth.
When we were school age we never told a lie, but I bet many of you readers lied
in your youth. Okay, so maybe we did lie a few times. One of the best we heard
recently was when a teacher confronted a student for copying, word for word,
from Wikipedia. The student responded, “I can’t help it if Wikipedia copied my
paper!” You cannot make anybody tell the truth.
Most kids lie because
they are afraid of trouble if they tell the truth. They usually are motivated to
lie because they worry about disapproval or punishment. When kids are lying
because of fear of punishment or wanting a reward, the first step is to lower
the stakes so that neither is so important.
For example, Avi, a fourth
grader, comes home and is asked by his father if he has any homework. Avi
Avi’s father d i s c o v e r s that Avi has lied. He is tempted
to give an angry lecture coupled with loss of privileges.
decides to use this as an opportunity to explore with Avi issues about school as
well as honesty.
He says, “Avi, your teacher called today and said that
you have not been doing your homework. I am concerned, and I’d like to hear what
Avi says, “I don’t know.”
His father continues, “Avi,
you probably feel worried that what you say might get you into trouble and there
may need to be consequences. But the most important thing is that we figure out
what is wrong in school and how to make it better.”
Some tell lies as a
way to make their lives seem more interesting. We recall a child’s parents
meeting her first grade teacher, who commented on how often the student
expressed enthusiasm for horseback riding. The only problem was that she had
never been horseback riding. Our strategy was to suggest that parents tell the
daughter how much they like story telling, and teach her that the best writers
can tell great “pretend” stories but that it could be embarrassing to tell a
story when other people think what you are saying is real.
Lying can also be a way for kids to see if they can get one over
on you. An effective strategy is to up the ante by playing along and adding to
the story line.
Student: “Yesterday I climbed Masada three times. It was
Teacher: “I once climbed Masada, then walked through the whole
desert. It was great, too.”
This changes a lie into a fun game and
removes the reason for the lie by making it ineffective as a way to fool
If a child is interested in experimenting with a taboo and might
smoke, for example, most kids aren’t going to disclose their plans to their
parents. If we want to minimize lying, it is important that we regularly let our
kids know that we understand their desires and conflicts.
For example, a
mother might say, “As weird as it may seem, I remember when I first got
interested in boys. I remember thinking that I couldn’t talk to my mother about
that even though I wasn’t sure what to do. I hope when you have feelings, you
will feel able to talk to me.”
Some youngsters lie because they want to
These kids can be taught social skills, so the need to lie is
Help your child by having her practice these skills the same way
a musician practices a difficult passage until mastered.
“Others will like you better if you don’t interrupt them. Let me show you what I
mean, and we can practice until you are better at it.”
kids are angry with another person, and they make false negative claims against
them. They need to learn how to directly express their hurts and wants. First
see if the child is being bullied.
If not then introduce the no-gossip
rule: “I don’t talk about others in a negative way and don’t want you to do it,
Sometimes you have strong suspicions a child is lying. If there
is continued denial, be more direct without actually accusing.
get the feeling that you are not telling me the truth about how the DVD got
broken. Your honesty is very important to me, even more important than a
So what happened?” The best way to make lying a rarity is to “walk
the walk.” Don’t ask your kids to tell a caller that you aren’t home when you
We hope these suggestions are helpful, and should you decide to make
a comment, please tell the truth.
Dr. Richard Curwin is the director of
the master’s program in behavior disorders at David Yellin College in Jerusalem.
Dr. Allen Mendler is an educator and psychologist from America who regularly
provides tips on twitter @allenmendler. They are co-authors of Discipline With