Kids and Lying

The other night I was getting the kids ready for bed when I saw it. Or rather, I felt it. My boot was stuck to the floor of our bathroom. I lifted my foot to find a half wad of bright yellow bubblegum stuck to the bottom of my shoe, the other half still on the floor connected to my shoe by sticky strings of the gooey mess. I was appalled. This is the kind of predicament you might find yourself in out on the streets from some lazy sap who chose to dispose of their gum on the ground rather than in the garbage. This was not something I thought I’d find in my own home.

There are three people who live in this apartment – my daughter, my son, and me. It couldn’t have been my daughter, as she has braces and is forbidden from chewing gum while her teeth are bracketed. And she follows that rule religiously because she doesn’t want sticky bits of gum adhering to her braces. And it couldn’t have been me as the gum I chew is not sugary or yellow, and I know how to dispose gum properly. So that left my 8 year old son, a boy who is notorious for throwing his trash where he lays. But this was an all time low, even for him. I questioned my daughter first, as she was the closest to me. And she swore it wasn’t her. And then I called my son upstairs to question him. He denied fault adamantly. Being that it was late, I didn’t press the issue any further, but instead let him know I was very disappointed in the lying and that gum belongs in the trash. And still he denied fault. I put the kids to bed in frustration.

The very next night I was putting things away when it happened again – bright yellow gum on my floor. But this time it was not on the slick linoleum of our bathroom floor, it was on the carpet of the kids’ bedroom. And it would take more than just pulling it up and disposing of it. I had to cut it out of the rug. I called my son upstairs again and asked him about it. And he swore up and down that it wasn’t him. After much discussion about the gum, he finally admitted fault. As a result, he got his computer and video games taken away, and a huge lecture on the importance of telling the truth.

Kids lie for many reasons, the biggest reason of all to avoid trouble. Dr. Victoria Talwar conducts a study on lying through a research team at McGill University in Montreal Canada. In one of her studies, she has a child face the wall and guess what toys the researcher is holding in their hands based solely on the sound the toy makes. If he could guess all three toys correctly, he was promised a prize. The first toy emitted the sound of a police car. The child guessed correctly. The second made a baby’s cry. After a little hesitation, the child guessed that it was a baby doll, and was correct. For the third test, the researcher placed a soccer ball on top of a greeting card that made noise. She cracked the card and out came the sounds of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”. The child struggled with the answer. But before he could say anything, she told him that she needed to leave the room to get something, and asked him to promise not to peek. 5 seconds in, the child visibly fought the urge to turn around and look at the toy. He actually started to turn, but then stopped and faced the wall. But 13 seconds in, he gave in to temptation and turned around to see what the toy was. The researcher came back and was barely in the door before the child blurted out the answer. She told him to wait until she was seated. This gave him time to realize that he needed to sound a little less sure. “A soccer ball?” he guessed. The researcher told him he was correct, and the child lit up for ‘guessing’ correctly. Then the researcher asked him if he had peeked while she was away. He quickly answered ‘no’. But then the researcher asked him how he knew it was a soccer ball. The child shrank down in his chair and thought a bit before giving his answer. “The music sounded like a soccer ball.” He thought more about it, and then said, “The ball sounded black and white.” And then he thought even more and finally told the researcher that the music sounded like the soccer balls they played with at school – they squeaked. He ran his hand along the ball to prove his point, nodding to let the researcher know this was his final answer.

As parents, we can actually be at fault in producing lies out of our kids. We know the child did it, and yet we want them to admit it. We test their ability to be honest, and many times they fail. When I found the gum on the floor, I knew my son was the culprit. And yet, I asked him if he did it. He later admitted to me that he didn’t want to tell me the truth because he didn’t want to look stupid, and he was afraid that I would get mad. It never crossed his mind that I would get madder over the dishonesty. In his mind, he wasn’t going to get caught. But by asking him about it, I was virtually setting him up to tell a lie. Kids don’t need to be tested on honesty so often. By doing so, what’s really being instilled in them are more chances to lie – and to become better at it. I confronted my son by asking IF he had spit his gum onto the floor. His immediate reaction was to say no. I should have said, “Son, when we spit our gum out it needs to go in the trash and not on the floor. You can help me clean this up, and gum chewing is being taken away for the rest of the week.” By saying it like that, I’m not setting him up to lie.

Is lying something I should punish my child for? Child and Family Psychologist Dr. John Irvine of Australia spells it out like this: “For older kids it’s a touch more complicated, so let their motive govern your management. If it’s attention, take notice of honest efforts. If it’s to escape savage punishment or a court martial, handle the penalty quietly and respectfully. If it’s fear of disapproval, lift the rate of approvals. If it’s to frame others, work on the jealousy and hurt rather than the lie. If it’s to protect others, get your information elsewhere. Kids are more likely to tell the truth if they feel trusted and secure in their relationship, so in general terms the secret is to concentrate not on the lie but on tactful and courageous ways of handling truth.”

Lastly, a child is less likely to lie if they know that it disappoints you. Talking to your child about the importance of honesty produces a calmer and better response than punishment. “You really hurt me when you lie,” is often more effective than, “I’m really going to hurt you because you lied.”

Do you have effective ways of dealing with dishonesty? Or do you remember whoppers your child has told, or even ones you are guilty of as a kid? Share them in the comments section!

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2 thoughts on “Kids and Lying”

  1. Yeah…I remember coming up with some SERIOUSLY outlandish tales now and then…I think there was one time where something had gotten broken and I insisted that someone had broken in, smashed the item vindictively and fled, leaving me looking like the culprit. Needless to say, mom didn’t buy it.
    However, I gotta back you up on the ‘disappointed in you’ method. I was raised on good, old-fashioned guilt, and if I got in trouble (which happened rarely) my biggest concern was often not the punishment itself, but the knowledge that my mom would be disappointed in me, or had been worried about me or would be hurt by what I had done.

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