Adults who spend time with children are sometimes surprised by kids’ willingness to lie, even when they’re caught red-handed. Children have to learn to be honest, and the learning process isn’t always easy. Parents frequently resort to punishing their children when they’re dishonest, but a new study suggests that this strategy is unlikely to work.
Why Punishment Doesn’t Stop Lying
To explore how and why children lie, researchers recruited 327 children ranging in age from 4 to 8. They left each child alone in a room for one minute. Researchers placed a toy behind each child, then asked the child not to peek at the toy until the researcher returned. Using a hidden video camera, researchers were able to monitor children’s reactions after the adult left the room.
Most of the children—a total of 251, or 2/3 of the group—looked at the toy. Every one-month increase in age, though, decreased the likelihood that a child would look at the toy. When researchers asked the children whether they had looked at the toy, 2/3 of the children who had peeked—167 children in all—lied. Older children were both more likely to lie and better at maintaining their lies.
The toy was tempting for the children, so it’s no surprise that they couldn’t resist the desire to peek. What researchers found more interesting were the circumstances under which children were dishonest. They found that children who feared being punished were less likely to tell the truth. When children were encouraged to tell the truth because doing so would please the adult or because honesty is the right thing, children were more likely to come clean. Younger children were more likely to tell the truth to please adults, but older children were more likely to have internalized standards of behavior, making them more susceptible to statements about how telling the truth is the right thing to do.
Because children are eager to please the adults in their lives, punishment is unlikely to yield the truth, the study’s authors emphasize. Parents who are interested in encouraging honesty should instead make children aware that honesty will please adults. As children age, they’re more likely to internalize these standards, causing them to choose honesty because it’s the right thing to do.
Don’t punish your child for lying — it just doesn’t work. (2014, December 12). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/286727.php
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