The Principle: Throughout the developmental process, children attempt to compartmentalize their world, including sorting out what is acceptable and what is not. Lying can be an indicator to the watchful adult that there is a need for instruction, reassurance, or another issue the child cannot yet verbalize. Lying can also indicate that there is confusion about truth and its ethical standard.
There are many reasons why children lie. Here are five.
1. Fact vs. fantasy: As part of normal development, very young children are unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy. In such circumstances, they may tell an untruth.
2. Seeking approval: Older children will tell a lie as an attempt to control reality/parents/teachers/or any number of other circumstances affecting their lives. Every child seeks approval, and attempting to avoid disapproval is a natural response to the undeveloped conscience.
3. Avoiding responsibility: A child attempting to avoid responsibility for an act is an indication to the adult that instruction in personal accountability is needed. Character education is an ongoing process in early childhood development, and gentle explanations in this area add greatly to the child’s character.
4. Fear: A fourth scenario is that a child will lie because of fear. Fear of punishment. Fear of consequences. Fear of the adult’s response. This fourth possibility becomes a warning sign to parents and educators that the child has moved from a place of trust and safety to one of fear.
5. An unmet need: Lying can also be a signal to the watchful adult that the child is in need. Feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, or pressure from parents or other significant persons in the child’s life may provoke the child to lie.
Years ago, children were taught to tell the truth. When a mis-deed occurred they took responsibility, prepared for the consequences, and hesitantly reported the facts as they happened. Today, however, speaking the truth is often considered inappropriate.
A HYCL Team Member’s Account:
I have a friend who is a nurse. This morning she shared that she was continually criticized for having “no filter.” She actually felt it necessary to defend what she described as “her tendency to tell the truth.” The real question is, “Who would want a nurse who didn’t tell the truth?”
This cultural shift toward negatively labeling a truth teller – marking them as a person with “no filter” – presents to our children a character model filled with compromise. Right and wrong are neither fluid nor negotiable. Either an event happened or it didn’t. Either something is the truth or it is a lie. There should be no confusion.
Having “no filter” used to mean that the person was unskilled in a social situation and could not determine what was an appropriate response in a certain circumstance. But today, the term is used in a demeaning way, judging a person harshly for speaking truth.
A teacher friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook:
“One of the biggest rules I have in class: “Be honest!” I can work with that … would much rather a student mess up, admit it, and we come up with a solution. Teaching kids to overcome is paramount in life!!!”
If we want our young people to grow up respecting what is right and authentic, then perhaps we should explain to them that, in spite of what the world would say, there is no higher use of language than to speak … the truth.
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