The Show & T.E.L.L. Blog has been sharing how caregivers respond when a child lies. (Except the post this past Tuesday – our 100th post – where we asked for your constructive feedback. If you didn’t reply, please link here to read how you can help us improve our services.)
So far we have nine posts in this series. The posts have stirred mixed emotions in our readers. I have received messages complimenting the ideas being discussed, as well as few challenging comments. During the next two weeks, I will share those thoughts and feelings. If you wish to add your ideas to the discussion, please send them my way!
Here is a summary of the nine posts. To read them, you can link to the post by clicking on the text.
#1: When my child lies to me, how should I TELL her to be honest? started the series. In this post, I share a grandmother’s story about her 10 year old granddaughter telling white lies, “My granddaughter…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.”
#3: Create a T.E.L.L.ing memorable moment when a child lies is about how one subscriber remembers how her grandmother responded to her lie when she was 7 years old…”My grandmother was baking cookies for her church group… and they smelled so good! Without thinking, I went up and grabbed four or five of them to take to my room.”
#4: How I tried to address my child’s lie is where one of our subscribers shares how she responded when she heard her 16-year-old daughter lying on the phone to a friend. “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.”
#5: A teacher shares valuable insight about children and lying describes a conversation she had with her 12- 13-year-old students about lying. “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.‘”
#6: Seeing lies from a child’s eyes is a guest post by Caroline, where she shares a moment she experienced with her 4-year-old daughter. “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.”
#7: A teenager’s perspective on what lying is and isn’t is where I share parts of a conversation I had with a 14-year-old boy about lying. “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.”
#8: Father-son interaction become lessons that last a lifetime is about a memory one of our subscribers had with his father when he was 6 years old. “My dad saw it [a sheriff’s badge] 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!”
#9: A subscriber’s 3-year-old son takes a child’s toy; what to do next? Brings into our discussion the uncertainty we all experience when interacting with a child in these situations. What to say; what not to say? “I left thinking maybe I should have handled this differently. Should I bring up what happened yesterday? Did I miss an opportunity to t.e.l.l. him better about lying – taking his friend’s car without asking?”
Addressing a lying child is not enjoyable. While it is happening, it can be painful. We want children to learn about honesty, commitment, and other valuable traits that are weakened when they tell a lie. We address these moments the best we know how. We want to instruct the child to make a better choice, but sometimes we just are unsure what to do.
I wonder if you can relate to this mom’s story:
My son is about 3 ½ years old. We are in a playgroup with other children, and the other day after playgroup, I noticed he was playing with a new toy car. I asked him where he got the new car, he named a boy in the playgroup gave it to him.
‘Are you sure?’ I asked.
‘Yes, he gave it to me for my birthday.’
‘But, honey it’s not your birthday.’ Which is when he started crying, and continued saying, ‘He gave it to me, I promise. He gave it to me for my birthday.’
I didn’t want to say to him, ‘You’re lying,’ so I told him I would call the boy’s mom and see if that is true. I added, ‘We don’t want your friend upset because you took his car.’ Which maybe I shouldn’t have said because those words caused my son to cry even louder, repeating the phrases, ‘I didn’t take his car, he gave it to me, promise, he gave it to me for my birthday,’ on and on.
Those of you who are around toddlers, I’m sure you can imagine this scenario: the child crying and believing one truth and you seeing a different truth. How do you interact in these situations? This subscriber did not feel she handled this the best way; she wants to know if any of you have a better way to handle this situation?
When we got home, my son genuinely believed this boy had given him the car, but when I called the boy’s mom that was not true. So I told my son, ‘You must have misunderstood the boy. He did not give you the car, and we will be giving the car back tomorrow.’ I added, ‘When we do return it, you are going to have to say you’re sorry for taking the car.’ I told him to give me the car for now.
We had a rough hour, hour and a half. I tried to get him to play with something else or watch a movie. I even asked if he wanted to read a book with me. He just sat on the sofa obviously upset. He was mad at me. Every once in a while, he said something about that was his car. His friend gave it to him for his birthday. It wasn’t until his sister came home from school that he could focus on something else.
But here’s the kicker, the next day we went over to the friend’s house to return the car. I asked him to say he was sorry for taking the car, which he said calmly, ‘Sorry, I took your car.’ There was no mention of a birthday gift. He wasn’t upset any more. It was like yesterday never happened!
I left thinking maybe I should have handled this differently. Should I bring up what happened yesterday? Did I miss an opportunity to t.e.l.l. him better about lying – taking his friend’s car without asking? I’m actually writing to hear what other toddler parents – or teachers of toddlers – can suggest!
Any suggestions? Send us a note in the section below. What would you have done differently? What can this mom do next time a similar situation happens?
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.
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.
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.
A 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!
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.
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:
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!