white lies

I wanted to kick off this post with a fun infographic on white lies parents tell their kids, courtesy of Business 2 Community.

This article is written for you by Allie Irwin, a Science of People Certified Body Language Trainer, coach, speaker, and former senior project engineer. She uses her blend of humor and hard science to teach techies how to ask for what they want, earn more money and become more charismatic leaders in all areas of their lives. You can follow her on Facebook and take advantage of the free content she offers on her website.

Science of People recently got a great question from a father asking how to teach his young daughter that lying is bad.

“I recall from one of your courses that lying was a learned behavior that occurred between the ages of 3 to 5. I have a 3 year old and I’m wondering: what can I do to teach her not to lie, above and beyond being honest myself and patterning that behavior… Thanks!”

Given that a majority of kids have lied, as described in a recent Science of People article, I suggest a different question:

How do I create a culture of honesty in my family?

Let’s start with some of the reasons why children lie:

why children lie

  • Very young children (under 5) are not able to consistently distinguish between reality and their very rich imaginations. According to Michael Brody, M.D., a child psychiatrist in Potomac, Maryland, “Very young kids don’t know the difference between truth and fiction.”  Many of the tales they tell aren’t lies simply because they don’t know the difference.

I’m not sure if this little guy knows the difference or not, but it is certainly a fun example of what lying looks like at this age.

  • Older children most often lie to avoid unpleasant tasks or trouble.  With these types of lies, it is important to understand the reason behind the lie and focus on that rather than fixating on the lie itself.  My own daughter lied when she was little about having headaches because she liked the flavor of the medicine.  When I figured out what was happening, the most important thing was to talk about how dangerous it is to take medication we don’t need.

why children lie

  • If they are lying to avoid unpleasant tasks like homework or cleaning up a mess, it is better to work together to find ways to get the job done, than to get into a showdown about the truth. If we focus on punishing for the lie, we think we are teaching “lying is bad” but often times what is heard is “getting caught is bad.”
  • Lastly, children lie because they don’t want to disappoint us. So the question to ask is “How do I help my child feel they are good enough just as they are?” It is important to separate out your own wants and desires from your children’s so that they are comfortable telling you the truth.

But what if my children tell me something I don’t want to know?

That leads us to the next step in building a culture of honesty, modeling willingness to have difficult conversations with your children. If you truly promote honest conversations, uncomfortable topics are going to come up. At various honest times in my house, I’ve been vulnerable, unpopular, wrong, hurt, uncertain, overly certain, tough, tender, forgiving, and everything in between. This parenting stuff is not for the faint of heart.  

If you need more help in having a difficult conversation, head on over to my website where I offer free information on the exact process I use.

Lastly, don’t discount the power of modeling honesty.  

When I first took the Science of People “Lie Detection in 100 Minutes” course and became interested in lie detection, I was surprised by how often I was telling prosocial or “white” lies.  I struggled with how honest I was willing to become because it seemed like white lies were a kind of social lubricant and time saver. Then I saw this research from “Lying in Everyday Life” by DePaulo, Kashy, Kirkendol, Wyer, & Epstein in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

“Consistent with the view of lying as an everyday social interaction process, participants said that they did not regard their lies as serious and did not plan them much or worry about being caught. Still, social interactions in which lies were told were less pleasant and less intimate than those in which no lies were told.

This fall, I took Martha Beck’s Integrity Cleanse and learned that perhaps the best reason for telling the truth is that when we lie, even white lie, we lose a tiny bit of our ability to know our own truth. It turns out that being honest is a practical decision not just a moral one. The more honest you are with yourself, the better business and personal decisions you make.  

Being honest is a practical decision not just a moral one.click to tweet

Beyond all that, I believe honesty is the foundation of all rich, rewarding relationships and that is the best reason of all.  

Please share this article and then head on over to Twitter to ask a question or tell me how you are creating a culture of honesty in your relationships.

Could you be a human lie detector?

Learn the 5 scientifically proven steps to being a lie detector in our online training. Never miss a lie again. You'll be able to spot deception and uncover hidden emotions, and unlock the secret language of lies.

Ready to keep learning? Read on...

As Featured In