MENTAL HEALTH

When kids lie: What you should do according to one BYU expert

Apr 1, 2023, 12:15 PM

Child care provider Holly Kingston gives children a snack at her home in West Jordan on Friday, Jan...

Child care provider Holly Kingston gives children a snack at her home in West Jordan on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. Parents, children, educators, and supporters gathered at the Capitol for Child Care Day on the Hill. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — What do parents need to know about when kids lie and how to deal with that dishonesty? 

BYU psychologist Dr. Tom Golightly joins Dave & Dujanovic to talk about when children lie to their parents.

“What’s it like when our kids lie to us? Is it a sign of — are they afraid of getting in trouble? Are they pushing boundaries? What are some of the things we learn when our kids are lying to us?” Dave Noriega asked.

Golightly says when something bad happens, a child is trying to control the situation so that the caregiver will still give acceptance and approval to the child.

“Generally speaking, especially the earlier the ages, if you catch them in trying to mold how they’re explaining some things, they’re actually just looking for approval,” he said. 

 

Should the cell phone be taken away for lying?

“What about taking their cell phone because that’s a favorite move of parents in my circles?” Noriega asked.

Golightly said he found taking away a cell phone from a child turned out, in the end, to be his punishment. 

Instead of taking the cell phone away, he advised limiting its use.

“You don’t have to do all of the taking away,” Golightly said, “but you can meet them in the middle and say, ‘Yes, you get it for school’, but we’re going to really curb some of how you’re interacting.”

Reinforce honesty over punishment

“If they’re cheating in school — on a test or on an assignment or they’re copying off their best buddy for all the answers — is that lying? And are they doing that to also win our approval?” Debbie Dujanovic asked.

Golightly said most of the parents he knows are not trying to raise children who base their worth on their achievements.

“But a lot of times we do base our worth on achievements,” said Golightly. “We might lie, as children, to put ourselves in a spot like, ‘No, I am competent. You can trust me. I am I am lovable’.”

“If we understand why kids are “lying,” what’s the appropriate response?” Noriega asked.

“A big thing is to reinforce when they are honest,” Golightly said. “When they come home, and they show you the bad grade, for example, say, ‘Hey, thanks for showing me. What can we do to support you or help you get better here?’ as opposed to ‘Why are the grades so bad?’!”

Golightly stressed that it takes time for parents to reinforce honesty, to show a child that integrity is an important value for which to strive.

“Research shows reinforcement changes behavior a lot more than punishment does,” he added.

Because parents want to be loved by their children, the accountability component can be difficult for some parents to apply when they are lied to by their kids.

“We’re a little afraid, like, ‘If I punish too hard, they’re not going to like me.’ There’s a way to ride that line and dance that dance where we can keep our children accountable without being overly punishing,” Golightly said.

Related reading:

Why Kids Lie and What Parents Can Do About It

Proposed bill would prohibit police from lying to children during interviews

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio.

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When kids lie: What you should do according to one BYU expert