Kids are Wired to Lie. Raise Honest Kids With These Tips

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Kids are rock-stars at lying because it comes natural to them. As natural as breathing.

You may be nodding your head agreeably as you recall your kid’s most recent lies, or you may be thinking, “hey, not my kid!”

Regardless, this is not an empty opinion from a stressed out mom. It is actually confirmed in several studies.

Michael Lewis, a prominent psychologist at Rutgers, conducted several studies, showing that children are actually wired to deceive if it benefits them, avoids negative consequences, or protect their confidence.

In one study, an adult showed a child a present and advised them not to peek. 35% of the studied 6-year-old kids peeked at the present, and 100% of the peekers lied about it when the adult returned.

If you think of it, it is part of their biological survivor- mode. Little Cave-boy Joe and Cave-girl Sally would lie about sneaking extra rations of meat so that they can still get their evening berries.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Recently, my second-grader was caught in a lie.

Basically, a classmate caught him cheating on a test and told the teacher.

He denied cheating to his teacher and to me. Although there is no proof and he is typically a very honest and honorable boy, my gut told me (based on his body language) that he did cheat.

This was new territory for me, so I wanted to make sure to approach this situation the right way.

Yeah, it was just a spelling test, but was it his “gateway” lie? Was this the beginning to my sweet son’s criminal career?

Time for this nerdy, data-obsessed pharmacist to do what I do best – research.

Honorable Kids are Taught These Things

I want my child to understand the importance of honesty, and what it really means to keep their word.

As mentioned earlier, it is normal for kids to lie; however, as parents, we can teach our kids how to be honorable and actually wire them for honesty.

Dr. William Klemm, an author and a senior professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University, believes that children are naturally dishonorable. He suggests that parents must teach their kids the meaning of honesty.

These 5 tried and true tips will help you raise an honest child that will grow into an honorable adult.

1) Start a Daily Good Deed Chart

Another parent recently told me that their boy scout was advised to start a “Good Deed Chart”.

Everyday, the children had to do one good deed for someone else, and describe it on their chart.

Watching that list grow, makes children visualize what it means to do good things for other people. It gives them a sense of “right”.

2) Question Poor Behavior

In addition to helping your child understand good deeds, it is important for them to understand what it means to do something wrong.

If your child is simply scolded for bad behavior, they may never truly understand why it is wrong. With that lack of emotional understanding, lying to avoid future conflict is expected.

Help your child understand poor behavior by questioning it. If your child cheats on their test, don’t only punish them. Ask them questions to help guide them through realizing the negative outcomes, such as:

  • Is it fair to your other classmates that you cheated?
  • What do you think your teacher thinks about you cheating on the test?
  • What did you gain from cheating?

3) Set a Good Example

Recently, I was reviewing my Target receipt as I sat in the parking lot. I realized that I wasn’t charged for an expensive item.

Did I want to do a little celebration dance and drive away? Well, sure, but that’s not exactly honorable behavior.

If we want our children to be honest, we have to set a good example. I explained to my kids in the car that even though I did nothing wrong and no one knew about this missed charge, the right thing to do was go back into the store and pay for it.

4) Keep it Real

For me, a big part of setting a good example is keeping it real with my children.

They don’t benefit from my sheltering them from difficult situations and real issues.

Try to openly talk to your kids about emotions and conflict going on around them.

If they witness an argument, maybe between you and your husband, explain to them that people sometimes have different views but it is important to listen to each other.

As long as it is mild, allowing children to see how grown-ups work through conflict or difficult emotions can be a teaching moment.

5) Teach Them to Accept Consequences

Kids naturally want to avoid dealing with negative consequences to their actions.

Last year, my daughter threw a toy at her friend, and her friend left crying. I had her write a “sorry” letter and give it to her friend. She was humiliated, but I guarantee there won’t be toys flying out of her hand in the near future.

Even though it was a silly argument, which I usually try to stay out of, it was a good opportunity to show her that she has to accept responsibility for her actions.

Final Thoughts

If your child has lied or has tried to deceive you, it is important to remember that it is normal childhood behavior.

As a parent, it is your job to teach them right from wrong. Guide them away from lies and towards a place where they can openly speak the truth and understand what it means to be an honorable human.

Their future self will thank you for taking the extra time to teach this important life lesson.

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Lewis, Michael. (2015). The origins of lying and deception in everyday life. American Scientist. 103: 128-135.

Klemm, William. Teaching Children to Be Honorable. Assessed 4/20/2020.

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