If you’re finding that your kiddos are lying more than you’d like, it might come down to how you’re parenting.
Canadian psychologist Dr. Victoria Talwar, a professor at McGill University, looked at children’s lying habits during an experiment she calls the Peeping Game. Performed at two schools in West Africa, one known for its strictness and the other not so much, the Peeping Game leaves a child alone in a room with a toy behind them and instructions not to peek. When the adult returns, they ask the child if they peeked, already knowing the truth thanks to a hidden camera.
What Talwar found was that of the two-thirds of the children who did peek (the rascals!) those who feared punishment were more likely to lie about it.
Ha! We knew it! Ok, so that’s a lie. Sorry.
“The bottom line is that punishment does not promote truth-telling,” says Talwar. “In fact, the threat of punishment can have the reverse effect by reducing the likelihood that children will tell the truth when encouraged to do so. This is useful information for all parents of young children and for the professionals like teachers who work with them and want to encourage young children to be honest.”
Phillipa Perry, an American psychotherapist, supports the claim that the parent or other authority figure is partly responsible for the lie by creating a situation in which the child feels afraid of the punishment. But she also says that it’s not only the child’s fault for lying in the first place. Parents who create an uncomfortable environment are to blame, too.
“’If a child lies to get out of trouble, then that lie is not all down to the child, it’s a co-created situation. The atmosphere has been produced whereby the child does not feel safe telling the truth,” Perry told the Daily Mail.
It all makes sense, right? If your kid is worried about getting in trouble,they tell a fib to avoid conflict—please, mom, don’t take the computer away—and therefore end up perfecting their little lies, so they can consume as much YouTube as your bandwidth will allow.
But this has got us thinking: maybe we parents need to change the way we ask for the truth. Instead of growing angry and demanding to know who the heck put four rolls of perfectly good toilet paper into the toilet bowl to soak and decompose, we alter our ask. Because really, we know who did it anyway.
Either that, or take a cue from your 8-year-old’s favourite princess and let it go, let it go!