095: A teacher shares valuable insight about children and lying

We are having a conversation, a virtual TELL Gathering, about how to interact with children when they lie to you. A TELL Gathering is a focused conversation about how caregivers can improve interactions with children. We’ve already shared one story where a subscriber recalled a moment she lied as a child (click here to read this post). We also shared a conversation one of our subscribers had with her teenage daughter (click here to read this post). (We will be referring back to these stories throughout this blog post, so if you haven’t read them, take a few minutes to follow the links and catch up!) There are more stories to come!

However, today I want to remember why we started this conversation in this first place. This began because we had a subscriber write:

My granddaughter is 10, and she recently started telling little white lies. For example, the other day right after taking a shower, I asked if she washed her hair. She said she did, but it was obvious that she didn’t. I asked her again, ‘Honey, it doesn’t look like it, are you sure you washed your hair?’

‘Yes, grandma,’ she said, somewhat annoyed by me asking again.

I asked you all if you could relate to a child telling you white lies – or blatant lies? I asked for your ideas about how we, as caregivers, can t.e.l.l. children to be honest in these moments.

One of our subscribers is a teacher of 13-year-olds. She decided to ask her students why a child would lie about washing her or his hair.

I framed it as if it were my neighbor’s son who did this, I said to my students something like, “I need your help. My neighbor’s son lied to his mom last night and I want to know why you think he would do that. Here’s the story. When he got out of the shower, his hair was dry so she asked him if he washed his hair. He said ‘yes’, but she knew he didn’t. Why would he lie to her about that?”

I found my students’ responses quite interesting. The most popular answers were:

  • “Maybe he forgot, maybe he thought he did because he was listening to music or thinking about something else.”
  • “Maybe he was in a hurry to do something else, like his homework” (laughter).
  • “Maybe he didn’t want his mom to be mad at him so he just said he washed his hair. Keep peace, you know.” (laughter).

What surprised me most is every response was defending the boy, and my students did not see his response as being a lie. Even when I questioned it further: “He did not tell the truth, so why is that not a lie?” They kept defending the response, and the group seemed to agree when one student said, “A lie would be if he said he took a shower but didn’t.”

“How is that different than lying about washing his hair?”

“It just is, why is that such a big deal if he washed his hair or not?”

I could see how most of the students agreed with this student. I also realized the group was done with this conversation. It was time to move on.

So now as I write this, and think about my students’ responses, it is obvious what I think may be a lie, they clearly do not. At least at this age, and I would guess even younger, like the grandmother’s 10-year-old granddaughter, it is not a lie in their minds unless there can be no other possible explanation.

When the child answered her grandmother with yes she washed her hair, in that moment her intent was probably not to tell a lie. There were probably other ideas in mind. I can’t help but think if the grandmother did make a big deal about it being a lie, the young girl would respond like my students: “Why is she making such a big deal about this?” And, as I concluded, this conversation would go nowhere because they don’t see the lie.

First, thank you to this subscriber for asking her students and sharing what she learned with us! She brings up excellent points for all of us to think about.

First, don’t you agree a child is more than likely not thinking, “I am telling a lie”? There is another thought louder in the child’s mind to begin with. For example, in our first story, the 7-year-old merely wanted a cookie, and in the second story the teenager didn’t want to be mean, she just wanted to go to dinner with another friend instead. The adult had to point out the lie, the poor choice. And because the lie was obvious enough, the child could then see it as a lie.

In addition, if we think back on the first two stories, neither of the interactions focused on the lie, but on honesty. In addition, in the first story there was focus on not blaming another person, and, in the second story, on honoring commitments. Could it be these conversations had an impact because the child could obviously see the lie; therefore, it made sense to them to talk about honesty, not blaming others, honoring commitments, etc.? But what happens if the child does not see the lie?

In other words, what if the grandmother wanted to use the shower incident to have a conversation about honesty and telling the truth – but the child didn’t see her response as a lie? Will the conversation really have an impact and change her mind for the better? As this teacher concludes, probably not. As she mentioned…

I can’t help but think if the grandmother made a big deal about it being a lie, the young girl would respond like my students: “Why is she making such a big deal about this?…” This conversation is going nowhere because they don’t see this as a lie.

She raises a great point, don’t you think? As caregivers, we should evaluate the situation and decide whether this is a genuine opportunity – the time and place to have an in-depth conversation to t.e.l.l. a child better ideas so the child can make better choices. Doesn’t it make sense? If the child does not see his or her actions as a lie, no matter how much you emphasize that it is a lie, will he or she really listen? And, won’t the conversation turn into the adult trying to convince the child he or she lied? We’ve all had those frustrating conversations, haven’t we?

We may have to wait for another opportunity, one that is more obvious to both you and the child because then it will allow for a better, more in-depth conversation.

What ideas come to your mind as you read this? Would you ask a question to challenge the conclusion? Would you share a similar thought to support what this teacher thinks? Send us your ideas. Also let us know how you feel about this conversation. Do you have a question you feel needs to be addressed? Is there something you feel we need to consider? Your contribution is valuable. As we share ideas, we all can become clearer how to t.e.l.l. children better!

Have a nice weekend!

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