Why kids lie and what to do

We hope these suggestions are helpful, and should you decide to make a comment, please tell the truth.

Students in classroom 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Students in classroom 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
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 says no.
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.
Instead, he 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 you think.”
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.
The “lying” stopped.
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 great.”
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 you.
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 be popular.
These kids can be taught social skills, so the need to lie is reduced.
Help your child by having her practice these skills the same way a musician practices a difficult passage until mastered.
For example, “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.”
Finally, sometimes 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, either.”
Sometimes you have strong suspicions a child is lying. If there is continued denial, be more direct without actually accusing.
Say, “I 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 DVD.
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 are.
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 Dignity.