Harvard Graduate School of Education Logo

Liar, Liar

The dog ate your what? Four tips for parents on handling little white lies to tall tales

March 20, 2015
Lying image

The truth or not the truth, is that the question?

It’s certainly one of them, according to the folks at Making Caring Common (MCC), a project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education focused on helping schools, parents, and community members to “develop caring, ethical children.” 

In a newly released video, MCC co-director Rick Weissbourd — a psychologist and senior lecturer at HGSE — shares screen time with several elementary school-age children who define what lying means to them, while coyly owning up to their own bouts with dishonesty.

 

Weissbourd stresses that lying is all too common with children, citing the statistic that 95 percent will “lie to their parents at some point,” but parents should view these instances as part of an ongoing conversation on the importance of honesty and integrity. Sure, sometimes it may be justified — does Aunt Suzie really need to know that you hate the green sweater that she bought you for Christmas? — yet parents and children alike should proceed with caution when not telling the whole truth.

So what are parents and caretakers to do? MCC and Weissbourd provide four tips:

  1. Don’t Freak Out. Weissbourd says kids can lie for “all sorts of innocent reasons,” including eating too much candy but telling mom otherwise, as one student in the video admits. It’s important to keep the relationship close and the lines of communication open.
  2. Encourage Honesty. Talk about it. It’s essential to listen and understand why they are lying. Try this: Take turns reflecting on a recent time you were dishonest. This may include telling a small white lie or even just leaving out a piece of information. As a parent, you could also share an example from your childhood. After you have both shared, discuss the impact of your dishonesty and what you could have done differently. How did it affect others? You?
  3. Model Honesty. In your daily activities, Weissbourd encourages the modeling of honesty and integrity. “We can’t tell our kids to be honest and then have them witness our own white lies or dishonesty,” he says. "If they hear us lying, we need to explain to them why we chose to lie. If we regret the lie, we should explain to them why we made a mistake." Try this: Plan an “Honest Attention Day.” This activity is meant to bring more awareness to the behavior you are modeling. For one day, from when you wake up until you go to bed, pay particular attention to how honest you are. Jot down notes if you need to. At the end of the day, reflect on how honest you were. Are you surprised? Would you do anything differently? 
  4. Praise Honesty. “Sometimes being honest is tough for them and it takes real courage,” says Weissbourd. “We need to be able to honor that courage.”

Additional Resources

***

Get Usable Knowledge — Delivered
Our free monthly newsletter sends you tips, tools, and ideas from research and practice leaders at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Sign up now.

See More In
Parenting and Community