Life Skills: Trustworthiness – Why Do Children Lie?

Teaching character and life skills to students

This is a question that every parent has asked themselves, just not understanding how “their child” could possibly do this to them.  Children lie for the same reason that their parents do, they are attempting to solve a problem.

Problem: I want to go outside to play  and I have homework –

Solution: Tell mom and dad I did it already.

Problem: I want to go to a friends house but my room is not clean –

Solution: Stuff everything under the bed and tell mom I cleaned.

Problem: I don’t like what is in my lunch

Solution: Tell mom I ate it, but really I threw it away.
Sometimes the ‘problem’ is not disappointing you or wanting your approval.
Problem: Broken vase

Solution: “I didn’t do it.” (knee jerk reaction)
Lying is a faulty problem solving technique for the child.  Now that we know that they are using it as a problem solving technique we know what they really need is not a lecture on how “bad” they are for lying, but rather they need better problem solving techniques.  However that does not mean that there should not be consequences for lying.  Here is the key to the consequences though.  It is best to have a consequence for the lying and a separate consequence for the behavior or problem they were trying to solve.  For example; if the problem is not turning in homework – you may have a consequence for lying about it (taking something away for a short period of time) and a problem solving technique (a specific time to do school work under your supervision.  This would be even if they say they have no homework – they still must use this time to study and do school work until you can see improvement).
There is an Asian philosophy called ‘Mushin’ – staying calm and disconnected when you have been triggered by an act or words.  When dealing with lying as parents we cannot take it personally and we have to simply have a consequence that we apply in a matter of fact manner for lying that happens every time.  Our children have to know that they cannot get around the rules simply by lying.  No lectures on the morality of lying (though in a less heated moment it is good to discuss this) but rather a value that the family has;  “in our family we tell the truth” and we solve problems in other ways other than lying.   Being trustworthy is one of the most important connections we have with our children and the need for trust goes both ways.  Learning and practicing better problem solving skills will reduce the amount of lying done by our children.

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