Parents and even teachers complain all the time that children lie. ‘He said he did his homework,’ ‘She told me she brushed her teeth,’ often leads adults to characterize their kids as liars. Like Mr. Miyagi in ‘The Karate Kid’ that the answer is only important when you ask the right question.
Kids of any age want their parents and teachers to be proud of them. Many youngsters though, even into adolescence do not really understand the consequences of lying. At younger ages – say up until 10 or 11 years old – kids are often not even aware that the answers they give are heard as lies. And that is where this two tier problem lies: kids want to look good to parents and teachers, and adults listen and ask questions from the adult point of view. It’s a sort of ‘kids are from Jupiter and adults are from Neptune’ dilemma.
To address it means to first understand the nature of the interaction and relationship between adults and children. From the youngster’s perspective, when an ‘adult of importance’ (parent or teacher) asks a question, the youngster wants the answer to help them ‘look good’ in the eyes of the adult. Truth in this case doesn’t matter. Yet to the adult in this conversation it is truth that matters. Neither is likely to get their interests met, so the conversation is doomed from the start.
The solution?Change the question. When a child is asked ‘Did you brush your teeth?’ the answer that makes them ‘look good’ is, yes. The youngster is not considering whether that answer is the truth, the youngster is looking for adult/parental approval – ‘they are proud of me’. The child is therefore confronted with a dilemma – the truth (if it is ‘no’ won’t increase parental pride), but yes gets the job done. Parents hear the ‘lie’ and then start doing all manner of checking like smelling breath or touching to see if the toothbrush is wet (yes, we have all done it).
The adult – parent or teacher – needs to reconsider the question. What question would illicit an answer that is both the truth AND helps the child look good regardless of the answer?
Try it out:
Original question– Did you brush your teeth? Revised question – Let’s go brush your teeth now. If the child has brushed they can say – ‘no I don’t need to, I already brushed’ (they look good), or they can answer, ‘sure’ and they look good again.
Original question– Did you do your homework? Revised question – “Isn’t it time to do your homework?” The child could answer ‘no I finished my homework’ or ‘yes it is time to do my homework’ and once again – with either answer they look good!
Formulate the question (sometimes as a statement) in that way…and test out the answers. Do both a yes and a no answer help the child look good and provide the answer the parent needs? If so give yourself a gold star – It will be amazing how much more honest children will become…
Try to listen from the point of view of the child, not the point of view of the adult.
Cut the kids some slack…Remember they are only kids!