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When kids experiment with lying

Why do kids experiment with lying? The other morning, Woody left his writing journal at home by mistake. I looked through it and instantly knew we had a problem on our hands. For days, I’d been asking Woody, at the end of homework time, if he had finished all his assignments and done his writing. He’d say yes, and every time.

Child Crossing Fingers Behind Back
I prefer to trust my kids unless given reason not to. Until that moment, given report cards and other communication with the school, I had no reason not to trust Woody when he said he finished his work. But Woody had been lying to me. There were several days worth of writing not done. While I was upset, of course, that he hadn’t completed this assigned work, I was far more upset about the lying.

A tough talk

When Woody arrived home from school, we had a talk. It was a tough one. As soon as I mentioned the journal and that I looked through it, he knew what the issue was. There were tears, there was sadness, there was deep realization on both our parts that this was not an issue that would be resolved overnight or even in a week. Trust about schoolwork had been broken and it would take time to build it again.

I know my son knows right from wrong. During our tough talk he was able to articulate that he knew it was wrong, but said what he did anyway. I talked a little listening to that internal voice, the part that says something is wrong. Even if he had not been caught, he still would have known what he did was wrong. And it can be hard to live with knowing you did something wrong. Woody tearfully agreed.

A developmental phase

The kind of lying that Woody was doing was not destructive or particular willful. He hadn’t done the writing one day and, on a whim, said he had. It was more about testing limits, seeing what he could get away with than anything else. But that doesn’t mean it’s not serious – even though it’s better to address the issue over something like this than over something more destructive.

Alfs went through a similar experimentation phase when he was the same age. One of Alfs’ jobs was to take the dog out to her area to take care of certain doggie business. One day I watched through the window as the dog did nothing, but as soon as Alfs walked into the house, he told me that the dog had peed.


My husband and I have talked about consequences for the lying since that discovery. Although a short term loss of privileges brings a certain immediateness to the situation, the real consequence for Woody will be the time it’s going to take to rebuild our trust in regards to schoolwork.

While not my favorite developmental phase, I knew this was coming – at some point. Now that we are there, we can deal with it and move forward, and hopefully with trust.Read More

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