- A coping mechanism to deal with frustration or to get attention from peers.
- A way to cover up real or perceived failures.
- To please a parent or caregiver.
- Avoid a punishment.
- They learn it from parents.
According to Talwar, Bronson, and Merryman, children younger than 5 are more likely to label a broken promise as a lie, even though there might be justifiable reasons for breaking the promise. Even telling your children, "Just kidding" could be interpreted as a lie. When children start to lie and develop higher moral reasoning skills, they are better able to account for extenuating circumstances.
One classical way children learn that lying is okay is the parent asking the child to lie for them. For example and unwanted phone call occurs and the parent tells the child, "Tell them I'm (not home, in the shower, busy, etc.)." This behavior, and any form of it, teaches the child, "Lying is okay when I don't want to do something unpleasant."
However, the biggest factor for lying was trying to please a parent. Children know that if they do something that upsets their parent, it will make their parent unhappy with them. In order to salvage their parent's feelings of happiness toward the child and possibly avoid getting punished, children lie.
An interesting finding highlighted in this chapter was what helped increase honesty. Researchers read two different stories to two different groups of children; The Boy Who Cried Wolf and George Washington and the Cherry Tree. After reading these books to the children, they tested the children for their lying behaviors. The first group (Wolf) were found to lie just a little more than previously, whereas the second group (Washington) actually reduced their lying by between 50-75%. The authors believe that the difference between the stories created the change. In the Wolf story, the boy is punished and humiliated for his lie, in the Washington story, the boy (George Washington) is rewarded for his honesty, and receives immunity from punishment for the lie.
To test this assumption they had parents and researchers interact with children according to the George Washington story, granting immunity for telling the truth. However, this didn't decrease the lying behavior in children. What did reduce lying was immunity for honesty AND expressions of praise and authentic happiness from the parent toward the child for honesty.
The take home message from this chapter in the great book NurtureShock, is if you want kids to tell the truth we need to value the truth:
- Be more honest as parents.
- Don't put kids into situations where they are tempted to lie.
- Praise honesty and grant immunity when kids do tell the truth.
- Realize that on average most parents can only tell a child lies about 40% of the time, sometimes you will never know!
What have you found to be helpful to teach honesty?
What will you use from this article to help with your child?
Bronson, P. and Merryman, A. (2009). NurtureShock: new thinking about children. New York: Twelve.
Enjoy what you just read? Subscribe to our posts or become a follower.