098: A subscriber shares: Father-son interactions become lessons that last a lifetime

The recent Show & T.E.L.L. posts have centered on caregiver responses when a child lies. So far, we have talked about the varying perspectives of children and adults concerning lying, as well as a general strategy for responding when these situations arise.

As mentioned in the last post, this week I want to share stories about how caregivers responded when a child stole something. The story below is a memory from one of our subscribers.

My personal story about lying is from the stone age (mid 1950s), when I was 6 years old. My father was the type who thought the best lesson was taught by experiencing the consequence. I was 6 or 7 and we were at a shopping center (a new phenomenon back in 1955). I was going through the store, and I saw a sheriff’s badge hanging on a hook. I took it, put it in my pocket and when I was down the sidewalk a ways, took it off the cardboard backing and put it on my jacket. I dropped the cardboard backing on the ground as I walked.  

My dad saw it and asked me where I got it. I said, “I found it.” He said, “Show me where you found it.” As we walked back toward the store, he looked down and saw the cardboard backing for the badge. He stopped, picked it up and put it up next to my badge. Perfect match!

He said, “You didn’t FIND that badge, you stole it, didn’t you?” I began to cry and said yes. He took me into the store and told me to stand there while he found the manager. He and the manager worked together to concoct a scare scheme. I thought I was headed straight to jail. He made me confess, PAID FOR THE BADGE and handed it to me without another word.  

When we got home he said, “Go to the basement.” He came down a few minutes later with my mattress and a sheet. He said, “If you want to be a thief, you better know how a thief lives.” I was essentially in JAIL. A mattress, meals brought to me, one light on in the basement and nothing else for the rest of the weekend.  

Monday morning, I was allowed back up and had to work off the cost of the badge that I wanted “BAD ENOUGH TO STEAL IT.”  

To most, this may sound like child abuse. But I know one thing; I never stole anything again.

father son silohuette

I am curious to hear what you think about how the father in this story responded. The father definitely created an experience for the son to live the consequences. In the short run, it may have been painful for both of them, definitely for the son; however, in the long run, do you agree it was a valuable lesson that positively influenced future choices by the son? Doesn’t that make it a t.e.l.l.ing interaction?

When I asked this subscriber to elaborate further on this situation and his mindset as a 6-year-old, he added other thoughtful lessons learned from his father…

Going back that many years to identify my mindset might be a challenge but I do think that even at 6, I took the badge knowing it was wrong. I didn’t go in with the intent to steal it but when I saw it, I wanted it. We were very poor and I knew I couldn’t ask for it so I guess I took it. Lying to my dad was a natural act I guess, since I knew if I told him the truth I’d be in big trouble. Not sure how reasonable a 6-year-old’s mind is, but I knew enough to lie about it. 

My initial thoughts in the basement were, “Am I ever going to get out of here?” I neglected to share that when he would bring food or water, he always had a story or lesson about trust, honesty, stealing, hurting other people by my actions etc. That was the longest two days of my youth. 

My dad had matter-of-fact ways to teach. Like the time we were driving to my grandmother’s house in the country and I threw a tissue out the window. He locked up the brakes, I went flying into the back of his seat and he looked in the mirror and said, “Go get it.” When I came back he simply said, “Don’t ever throw anything out of the car again.” He never said another thing, but I STILL don’t throw things out of a car or litter. 

Many thoughts have come to my mind as I read and write this story to share with you. Why and how do you think these interactions are t.e.l.l.ing? That is, how did the father’s lessons teach, encourage, listen, and love the son? Send me a message below.

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097: A teenager’s perspective on what lying is — and isn’t

Well, friends, the stories and thoughts being shared about children lying and addressing the child’s lie have sparked many questions and comments! Most recently, we are considering the difference in a caregiver’s perspective and the child’s perspective under these circumstances. One of our subscribers shared how her students reacted to the notion of lying (click here to read) and then Caroline’s post about her 4-year-old daughter unknowingly telling a lie (click here to read). A number of you have commented on how you had not considered the more naïve point of view of the younger person.

Being curious about the younger person’s perspective, I had a talk with my nephew (age 14) about speaking a lie. One of his stories supports the fuzzy, more naïve perspective of telling a lie:

Like mom will ask if I brushed my teeth, and even if I haven’t I’ll say yes because I know I will make it true at some point, but in that moment I have an agenda, something else I want to do.

When I asked him if he thought that was lying:

Well kinda, but not really because it will be true shortly. I might as well just say yes now. No harm done. I guess I tell little lies which I probably shouldn’t do, but it doesn’t really impact much because it will be true eventually.

Clearly, little lies to him are not really lies. From his point of view, children lie:

  • To avoid upsetting someone; we want to say and do things that please our parents or others;
  • To avoid getting punished;
  • To escape having to do something;
  • Or because they don’t know better, they don’t see it the same way as the grown-up.

He believed the situation with brushing his teeth met the last category. Specifically, he didn’t see it being a real lie. How important is it to consider the child’s perspective when we respond to a lie? Should we respond differently if a child is trying to avoid being punished or if the lie is being told because in that moment he or she doesn’t know better?

My nephew said when he was younger; he didn’t know he was lying. It was more like I wasn’t telling the truth, which doesn’t seem as bad as lying.

I asked when he thought he knew the difference he speculated, I think it was around kindergarten. Mom or dad labeled what I said as a lie, and it was bad.

He added, Before I realized it was a lie, I remember it giving me a rush when I didn’t tell the whole truth and I got away with it. Once I knew I was lying, I didn’t feel that rush any more.

truth or lieA lie or not a lie? How should we respond in order to teach, encourage, listen, and love a child to be better, to make better choices? If we want to t.e.l.l. them to know better, make a better choice, shouldn’t we realize first what thoughts contributed to their poor choice?

I am grateful to all the subscribers for sharing stories, along with the compliments, challenging remarks, and questions. Thank you, and please keep the messages coming. Also, if you find these conversations helpful, ask your friends to join in on the conversation!

Next week we have more stories to share about actions that lead to blatant lies. For example, how some caregivers respond when a child ‘stole’ from another child, a store, or some other person or place.

Have a good, t.e.l.l.ing weekend!


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096: Seeing lies from a child’s eyes

The following blog post is written by guest blogger and Tell Our Children board member Caroline, the mother of one, a four-year-old girl.

The virtual TELL Gathering going on right now on the Show & TELL blog has really gotten me thinking about how children of all ages, but specifically preschoolers, perceive truths and lies. (Click here to read past posts in this series about lying.) In last Friday’s post, a teacher shared what her teenage students thought about what she perceived as a blatant lie. To the teacher, the child’s claim that he had washed his hair even though he had not was a lie. She sees it in black and white. Her students did not see it that way; to them, the situation was a bit more gray.

truth or lie

I find it fascinating that two different groups of people can perceive the same situation in two totally different ways. It made me think about how different my 4-year-old daughter probably perceives things as opposed to how I see them. After all, she only has four years of experience; I have 30.

For example, the other day I asked her to take her dirty clothes out of the bathroom and put them in her hamper, which is inside the closet in her bedroom. When she came back into the bathroom, I asked her, “Did you put your clothes in the hamper?”

“Yes!” she said, so emphatically and proud of herself that I believed her and didn’t follow up to see if she actually had.

It wasn’t until several hours later that I noticed she had just put her clothes on her bedroom floor right outside the closet door. So, thinking she had lied to me to just get out of doing extra work, I went to her and asked, “Did you put your dirty clothes in the hamper like I asked you to?”

She just looked up at me with an innocent, somewhat confused look on her face and asked, “What’s a hamper?”

I had to laugh! I realized she hadn’t lied to me about what she did, because she didn’t have a clear understanding of what she was supposed to do in the first place. In her mind, I asked her to do something with her clothes, so she did the best she could. When I asked her if she did, in her mind, she had done SOMETHING; she just didn’t know exactly what it was I was asking her to do.

As soon as I told her that a hamper was the laundry basket, she said, “Oooh! That’s what a hamper is!” And then we went and followed through on the task together.

It was a simple moment, but the simplicity of it reminded me that my daughter is 4, and she only has four years of experience and knowledge to apply to her life. As the parent, as the one with more life experiences and knowledge, I need to be better at seeing situations from her perspective. I should not be asking her to see things from my perspective. How could she? The last I checked, the only way to get from four years to 30 years is one year at a time, one experience at a time.

This little experience in my life has helped me learn that as young children are learning and taking new things in as they grow up, those things aren’t always going to be black and white, like truths and lies. Can you think of a situation with the child(ren) in your life who may have told you something that from your perspective was a lie, but maybe they didn’t see it that way? Can you think of a situation when you were telling the truth but your child perceived it differently? Please share!

Other posts in this series:

Wanted: Stories, questions, and comments on how to T.E.L.L. when a child tells a lie

Create a T.E.L.L.ing, memorable moment when a child lies

‘How I tried to address my child’s lie’

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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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094: A subscriber shares: “How I tried to address my child’s lie”

Here is our next story about a mom hearing her teenage daughter lie to a friend. As in the previous story with a 7-year-old, the lie was not necessarily a big deal, but it became an opportunity for the caregiver to t.e.l.l. the child there is a better choice. Even though your child may be younger or older than the one in this story, I think you will learn something if you read through her story!

My daughter, 16, was on the phone talking to a friend. I heard her say, “I can’t go tonight. My mom said I have to go with her and my brothers to dinner.” Then I heard my daughter continue, “I know, I wish I would have known. Sorry. Maybe we can go tomorrow?”

When she got off the phone I asked, “What was that about?” To which she replied, “Were you listening to my personal conversation?”

“Well yes, I heard you saying something about ‘mom’ so I listened. Let me ask again, what was that about?”


“Wait, why did you tell [friend’s name] you couldn’t go out because I said you had to go to dinner?”

“Mom, I said it was nothing. You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”

“No honey, it is something when you lie about a situation and it’s worse when you blame someone else so it looks like you had nothing to do with it.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what, we are going to talk about what I mean. You and I are going to dinner just like you told [friend’s name], except it’s only going to be you and me.”

“Mom, I already made plans to meet up with [another friend].”

“Well, now you can call her and tell her the truth. Tell her you’re sorry but your mom said you have to go to dinner with her.”

Of course, she was a bit frustrated and extremely quiet during our drive to the restaurant. I wanted to talk, but all I could think about was I needed to t.e.l.l. her. This is my opportunity to t.e.l.l. her not to lie. Honestly, I was kind of nervous. I had no idea how this was going to turn out.

After we ordered, I broke the silence by asking, “Can we talk about this?” I shared a moment in my life where I wanted to lie to get out of a situation. I told her about how I did the same thing to a friend when I was her age and how it didn’t end up the way I planned. My friend found out and confronted me. It was awful hearing her ask, “Why did you lie to me? Why didn’t you just tell me the truth?”

We talked about how a lie can hurt a relationship. It makes the person question your honesty. We talked about so many other things, but I wanted to share with you a question my daughter asked.

She asked, “Mom, what do I say when the truth is I’d rather be with [other friend’s name] than go to the movies with her? I can’t tell her that. That’s mean.”

Before responding, I asked, “Well, honey that’s a great question. What do you think you should say or do in that situation?”

“I really don’t know, mom.”

Her response made me realize how there is so much she really doesn’t know. I could see the big question mark in her facial expression. 

We talked about how to handle this tough situation, and at one point my daughter did say, “I guess I should have never told [friend] I would meet her for dinner since I had already promised to go to the movies.”

Reflecting on her story, this mom said, “This was one of the better conversations I have had with my daughter. I think she felt good afterward. I think we both felt good afterward. I can say we were both in a good mood as we drove home, unlike the drive there!

I also think it was good for her to hear how I can relate to her situation, where I lied and how I got caught, and it taught me to find ways to be honest. We talked about how we lie to avoid something, and how we must realize that. We talked about so many things. I think the conversation had an impact on both of us. Well, I can only wait and see if it made a difference for her.

mom and teen daughter

Wow, what a great story, don’t you think? As in the previous story with a 7-year-old, the lie was not necessarily a big deal, but it became an opportunity to think and see a better choice when her daughter chose to lie.

The strategy used by this mom is similar to how the grandmother addressed the 7-year-old in the last post. That is,

  1. Ask a question that allows the child to correct or continue the lie. In this case the question was to clarify: “What was that about?”
  2. Challenge the child’s response. Give them a chance to explain and think differently in this situation. “You and I are going to dinner just like you told [friend’s name]” where she had an in-depth conversation about telling the truth and what to do when you feel like you have to lie.
  3. Show them love. “This was one of the better conversations I have had with my daughter. I think she felt good afterward. I think we both felt good afterward.”

This story brings so many thoughts to mind, beginning with how valuable it is that she remembered to pause. As she drove in silence, she got to reflect upon how she might address the situation. It gave them both time to think on their own. She set herself up to be emotionally and mentally ready for the conversation. I was impressed by that, were you?

This story also made me think about how effective it is to find a way to express I understand; I have been there; I can relate to what you are going through. Don’t we all have those life lessons in lying, honesty, trustworthiness, commitment, etc.? I believe because this mom brought up a time when she was her daughter’s age, it helped bring them together to talk about this, and not have it be a “you versus me” conversation. What do you think?

There are a number of other thoughts that come to mind, but I want to close with a comment about her last statement, “Well, I can only wait and see if it made a difference for her.”

The truth is we that never really know how our words and actions impact a child. We can only know in the present moment that our intention is for the child’s best interest. This mom won’t know if this conversation will be one her daughter will recall later in life as the story told by the previous subscriber. However, in that moment, we know the child is thinking about the ideas talked about.

What I have learned is when we have a positive, t.e.l.l.ing moment such as this mom, we should look for opportunities to complement our child making a better choice in a similar situation. For example, in this story, the next time mom sees her daughter honoring a commitment, mom can notice and compliment. This reinforces their conversation and positive message. Similarly, if mom notices her daughter making the same poor choice, she can recall the dinner conversation.

If you wish to comment, or question, what is being written in these stories, please let me know. I will be happy to email your thoughts to the subscriber and we can keep the conversations going. Together we can do this, together we can t.e.l.l. youth better. More stories on the way!

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093: A subscriber shares: Create a T.E.L.L.ing, memorable moment when a child lies

The last two Show & TELL posts began a conversation about how caregivers can best respond when a child is lying to them. The stories and insights I am receiving are so telling! I may be posting on this topic for a few weeks! So, if you have a story, question, or comment, please go ahead and send it in by using the comment section below.

For those of you who did not get a chance to read the first two posts, you can link to them here:

#1: When my child lies to me, how should I tell her to be honest?

#2: Wanted: Stories, questions, and comments on how to T.E.L.L. when a child tells a lie.

A number of you have shared stories about how you got caught telling a lie as a child and how the adult responded. I’m excited to share these valuable lessons. We can all gain insight from these stories! For example:

My grandmother was baking cookies for her church group. I was probably around 7 years old and they smelled so good! Without thinking, I went up and grabbed four or five of them to take to my room. When my grandmother noticed the missing cookies, she yelled out my name in such a way that I knew she was mad. She came into my room and asked if I took the cookies. I instantly said “no” because I did not want to get in trouble.

I am sure it was written all over my face, and maybe there were even crumbs around me. Grandma replied, “Really, well I wonder who took them then? Do you have any idea?”

“I don’t know, maybe [my little brother’s name].”

She left, and I remember thinking, “What do I do now? She’s going to find out the truth. I am in so much trouble.”

I think I remember this story because what happened next was not what I expected. She came back with my brother (who was then 5 years old), sat on my bed, and said, “You owe your brother an apology for blaming him for something you did.” My brother was like, “whatever,” but Grandma kept having me say more. “I’m sorry is not enough.”

I had to explain to my brother why I blamed him, why I now realize it was the wrong thing to do, what I should have done instead. Then she asked, “And now how about giving me an apology?”

Crying my eyes out, I had to give a similar explanation to her. How I realized it was wrong, what I should have done, why I lied in the first place, etc.

Afterwards, Grandma asked my brother if he accepted my apology. “Yes Grandma, can I go play now?” he said.

My brother left and Grandma said she forgave me, too. I have remembered this story throughout my life when there’s a part of me that wants to react with a lie, when I don’t want to take responsibility for my actions. I think I realized how emotional it is when you have to correct it later. Maybe Grandma even said something like that at the end, that maybe I should have told the truth in the first place.


Isn’t it amazing how a small lie at age 7 turned into a valuable lesson about honesty and not blaming others for your actions? It became a memorable, t.e.l.l.ing moment for this subscriber. Her grandmother took the time to give her a chance to think through what she did and realize there are consequences for not telling the truth and blaming others. The consequences were directly related to the misbehavior. That is, she felt the consequences for telling a lie or blaming someone else.

So today I leave you with one thought to consider. Whenever a child is lying, this is an opportunity to t.e.l.l. them better. Give the child a chance to think and explain what thoughts caused him or her to respond with a lie. While interacting, give the child an opportunity to see why and how there is a better way to respond.

We can use this grandmother’s strategy:

  1. Ask a question that allows the child to correct or continue the lie. “Really, well I wonder who took them then? Do you have any idea?”
  2. Challenge the child’s response. Give them a chance to explain and think differently in this situation. Grandma had her apologize to her brother (in depth) and to her.
  3. Show them love. “I forgive you.”

More stories to come! I am curious to hear your responses – send your questions and comments!

A big thank you to those contributing to our conversation! Together we can figure out better ways to t.e.l.l. the children in our lives, more specifically, how we t.e.l.l. when a child lies.

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