Does Punishing a Child that Lies Make them Lie More?

Nanny Confessions

I confess, it drives me nuts when my Nanny Kid’s lie (or an adult does for that matter). It’s easier to fix a problem if people of all ages are just honest.

I think it’s pretty normal for many kids to exaggerate or stretch the truth for attention or to help them feel better about themselves occasionally.

But, its a bigger concern when children lie to avoid getting in trouble. When a child lies to me or her parents to cover up an issue instead of asking for help, it is a problem.

It’s a natural feeling to want to scold or punish a child for not being honest, but does over-punishing actually encourage the bad behavior I’m trying to dissuade?

In the book, The Answer Is NO: Saying It and Sticking to It, Cynthia Whitham says that at an early age children don’t easily differentiate fantasy from reality. Their truth and their wishes get all entangled. But, as children age they use lying to keep from getting into trouble. They hope that saying, “I didn’t do it,” to be saved from punishment.

Lying is not only a bad strategy, (the truth is usually found out), but it is an unacceptable behavior in most life settings.

How to get the truth from children:

1. Model taking responsibility:

When I make a mistake, make a mess, or break something at work I fess up. I pay for, or replace it, if I break something in my Nanny Family’s house.

2. Model being honest:

Apologize when you make a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t overreact to accidents or making mistakes.

3. Don’t lie to the children in your care:

I won’t tell them where babies come from if parents don’t want me to but I should be direct about why I want them to do, or not to do, something.

4. Teach the difference between pretend and fantasy and reality:

By the time kids are 3- or 4-years-old and certainly by preschool, children can understand that cartoons, storybooks, and toys create fantasy. Read both fiction and non-fiction children’s books and ask if parts of the story are make believe or real. For example, read Llama Llama Red Pajama. Ask, “Do llamas really wear pajamas and sleep in beds in the house?” When reading the nonfiction book, you might ask, “Do llamas really live on farms?”

5. Use children’s books, fables, and fairy tales to impress upon children the importance of the truth:

Read Pinocchio and The Boy Who Cried Wolf to present clear consequences of lying.

6. Reward the truth:

If a child comes forward and tells me about something bad that happened take the opportunity to praise him and say, “Thank you for letting me know so we can fix it.” That way the child won’t be afraid of telling me the truth, because I handled it well.

7. Since it is possible children lie to get attention, give the child plenty of positive attention for appropriate behaviors:

Show interest in the little things that the child does and praise her for successes.

8. Don’t interrogate:

If you know the child has done something you don’t like, make a statement to the child, rather than badger him with questions. When a child knows he is in trouble, he is already upset and worried. He will be tempted to lie to avoid punishment. Rather than say, “Did you break Mr. Hill’s window when you were playing ball?” Say instead, “You guys broke Mr. Hill’s window when you were playing ball. Let’s get Jeff and Frank and go apologize to Mr. Hill.”

9. Avoid a battle:

If the child insists he didn’t do it, but you’re pretty sure he did, avoid the battle if you possibly can. He may insist so fervently that he comes to believe in his innocence. Be willing to apologize if you find you have made a mistake.

As children age and consequences of their behaviors become more risky then of course they may have to be punished. They skip school, lie about going somewhere they aren’t allowed, and any dangerous behaviors must have serious consequences.

But when caring for younger tykes I feel overreacting or punishing kids may actually encourage them to lie to avoid being punished.

You can purchase the books listed in this article by clicking the links above or below:

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