Fairy: Why didn’t you go to school, Pinocchio?
Pinocchio: I was going to school…but then I met two monsters with big green eyes… they tied me in a big sack…
Fairy: And where was Jiminy?
Pinocchio: They put him in a little sack!
Fairy: How did you escape?
Pinocchio: I didn’t. They chopped me into firewood!
It’s wrong to deceive people; that’s a given. What can you do, though, if your child has picked up the habit of telling fibs? A good place to start is recognising that experimenting with lies is all part of a child’s developmental process growing up. Of course, this doesn’t make it acceptable behaviour that should be ignored; no parent wants their child to become a liar. Therefore, understanding the process behind a lie could help teach children not to do it and encourage honest behaviour. So let’s have a look at that process, then we’ll see how to create a targeted story to teach children the benefits of telling the truth.
There are different types of lies and different reasons children tell those lies. You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that children tell lies mostly to get something they want or to get out of trouble. However, Dr Matthew Rouse, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute – https://childmind.org highlights 5 other prevalent reasons why a child might lie:
- To test out new behaviour.
- To enhance self-esteem and gain approval.
- To get the focus off themselves.
- Speaking before they think.
- White lies to spare someone’s feelings.
I would really recommend checking out the article here for more information.
To successfully teach a valuable lesson to a child, it is important to identify the motivation of the behaviour. That information will help us connect with the child and show them the consequences of their action, thus establishing the correct way to behave. That will be the basis for our story with a lesson.
I wrote in a previous post about Aesop’s fable ‘The boy who cried wolf’, and how the consequence of a gruesome death by a wild beast might not be the most relatable story to teach a child who has fibbed about completing his homework (Please note, I’m certainly not proposing a boycott on these older stories; they are still very valuable and important to tell children).
This article starts with a transcript from the animated Disney film Pinocchio. As Pinocchio tells one lie after another, his nose gets bigger and bigger. This is a great analogy of the consequences of lying:
One lie leads to another. And as those lies continue to get bigger, so does the consequences of those lies.
The Fairy tells Pinocchio, “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face”.
Yes, the slippery slope that the first lie forces you on is a path best avoided. The importance of honesty and truthfulness, and being someone to trust is a fundamental lesson to teach children. Here’s an experience of someone I knew as a child:
The young boy was taken to the opticians to have his eyes tested; he had been complaining about his vision. He had the necessary tests, but the results were not normal. There seemed to be something wrong. His answers to the test questions were not consistent, and he also complained about having headaches. He ended up going through a whole process of doctor’s appointments, hospital visits and brain scans only to finally admit that he’d been lying all along just because he wanted to wear glasses!
Of course, this type of behaviour needs the proper attention assigned to it, and in this case, the embarrassment of it all (the natural consequence) did a good job in teaching that lesson. Indeed, it would be of great benefit to consider more precisely why that lie was told in the first place and examine any insecurities the child may have. From my own personal experience, I have found that lies predicated on low self-esteem are some of the hardest lies to break free from.
Let’s now look at creating a targeted story to compliment the process of teaching this important lesson.
First, we’ll consider the elements we need:
- A specific reason why the child felt the need to lie. In the above true-life example, it was an attention motivated reason or to gain approval. We will use something similar. When creating a story like this, the motivation behind the action should be evident from the beginning. This gives the child a chance to develop a more appropriate way for the character to behave from the beginning. * (see footnote)
- The consequences of that lie. In this case, it has to be something that escalates and leads to more lies until everyone finds out. It should be obvious so that the child can see that it’s clearly wrong and that the consequences of the action, if continued, could lead to more severe consequences.
- Then, as always, there has to be a clear discussion on how to correctly behave and show that honesty is always the better option.
Here’s an example of something you could try:
Tomorrow was Monday and the start of the school week, but Mary didn’t feel like going to school. She hadn’t had the usual fun weekend because her parents’ were occupied with her brother. What could she do?
- Why did Mary lie?
- What could she have done instead of lying?
- Do you think it was easy to admit the truth after? Why?
- What are the consequences of lying?
- What would you do in Mary’s situation?