Why Kids Really Lie – and How to Stop It

Kids tell little lies every day – about who spilled the juice and whether they brushed their teeth – but they don’t always mean to deceive. “Lying is a self-protective device that children learn to use at different ages and stages,” says education professor Sally Goldberg, developer of the blog Parenting Tips with Dr. Sally. “It’s perfectly normal, but how you handle it is important.”

Learning why kids lie is the first step in getting them to stop.

The Age: Toddlers

Why Kids Lie: Kids as young as 2 and 3 may tell simple lies (e.g., “I didn’t try to sit on the sleeping dog”), usually to avoid something unpleasant or to get something they want. But they don’t always grasp that fibbing is wrong.

Coming Clean: Don’t accuse your child of wrongdoing and ask her to fess up; that just sets her up to lie. Instead, focus on why her action is problematic. “When the dog is sleeping, he gets scared when something lands on him. He squealed because he was startled, and he may even be hurt.”

The Age: Preschoolers

Why Kids Lie: Fear of punishment is still a driving force behind lying. But at this stage, kids have rich imaginations (“Elmo ate a cookie in my bed!”) that easily transform wishful thinking to reality. Boasting (“I can do 1,000 somersaults in a row!”) is the kid version of keeping up with the Joneses.

Coming Clean: Don’t bother arguing that Elmo is a puppet on TV. Simply focus on what happened – someone ate a cookie in the bedroom, which isn’t allowed – and suggest a way to fix it: “Should we go clean up those crumbs together?”

The Age: Elementary school kids/Preteens

Why Kids Lie: By this age, lying has become a misguided survival tactic. It’s not at all unusual for kids to lie occasionally to avoid punishment and skirt their chores, but now they’ll also lie to boost their self-esteem, impress their friends and otherwise assert control.

Coming Clean: Try to determine what drove your child to lie, and help her find better ways to address the problem. If she said she did her chores, you may need to adjust your expectations; if she insists there’s no math homework (because she’s having trouble in math), offer to do it together.

Parents need to teach the value of honesty, says Goldberg. Let your kids know that lying can hurt their credibility and relationships. Thank them when they tell the truth, even if it’s ugly. And model honesty yourself.

Teach Gratitude & Give Your Child a Healthier, Happier Life

Research shows us that adults who are grateful report having more energy, fewer health problems, and a greater feeling of well-being than those who complain. Most studies show that the more gratitude we show the healthier and happier we are.

The same goes for children. Children who express gratitude are more appreciative, more empathetic, kinder, more enthusiastic and generally happier. Grateful children look outside themselves and understand that others have needs too. They are more polite, usually better behaved and generally more pleasant to be around.

Kids who are not taught gratitude are forever disappointed and fight feelings of entitlement. They struggle with feelings that nothing will ever be good enough for them.

As parents, “Teaching our Children Gratitude” should be at the top of our to-do list. It doesn’t come naturally to our children. It is learned. Who better to teach, than us?

The first thing we might need to do is stop doing some of the things that parents have been doing for years. Avoid pointing out to our children that they are more blessed than others. That doesn’t teach them to be grateful. When it comes to meals, don’t tell them “you should be grateful for your food and eat it, kids in other countries are starving”. This won’t work either.

Instead…

We need to model gratitude ourselves. We must live lives of gratitude if we want our children to really learn to be grateful. That means they need to see us take care of others, including our spouse, write thank you notes, say “please” and “thank you” and show empathy. That means we need to complain less, criticize less, and strive to point out the positives, not the negative, in situations, and in people. This includes our children and spouses. We need to refrain from complaining about our children (and spouses), instead tell them how grateful we are for them. We need to show gratitude for adversity too. Remember, children will, for the most part, do what their parents do. That is why gratitude has to start with parents, in our homes.

Provide your family opportunities to take care of others. Start by encouraging your children to take care of other family members, and then help them find ways to actively take care of others outside the family. Let them help you as you take care of others. They will learn by example. The goal is to give them “grateful eyes”, so they begin to foresee the need before they have to be told.

Give your children responsibility. We are always more grateful for things when we have to do them ourselves. The same applies to children. Give them appropriate responsibilities. They will realize the effort and energy it takes to accomplish them, and become more grateful for the people around them that do things for them. (Like their mom and dad.)

Teach your children to write Thank you Notes. Insist that this be done. Teach them that it is part of life. Organize a thank you note station in your home that is always stocked with papers, envelopes, stamps and crayons, etc. (Let your children see you sitting there often also). Start when they are very small by having them draw “thank you pictures” and then you write the words to go with it. Then move on to notes that have most of the words filled in. Have children write what it is they are thankful for and sign their name. By the age of 7 or 8, it shouldn’t be a problem for them to write the entire notes themselves. Don’t worry about perfection. Worry that they are remembering to do it. And doing it.

Teach your children to be grateful for adversity. When things are hard, or uncertain, or don’t go as planned, we need to teach our children to be grateful. To recognize the blessings that comes from hard things. We don’t want to teach, “we are luckier, or better than someone else”. Instead help children see what can be learned, and how we can take what we learn into other situations to help others and ourselves.

Say “No”. Our children don’t need everything they ask for. It is important for us to be reasonable and say “No”. We also have to be careful rewarding our children for everything. We want them to do good because it is the right thing to do, and not because they get something, like a new toy or money.

Role Play. Practice saying “please” and “thank you” with your children. Role play situations (grandma gives you a new toy, or someone pays you a compliment). During the role play, talk about how others feel when we show them gratitude. Remember, children aren’t thinking about everyone else. They are thinking about themselves, so we have to teach them.

Point out the simple things. Teach children to be grateful for the creations around them, the seasons, the sunshine, the falling leaves and the rain. Children will quickly understand that there is beauty all around, and that it has come from something much bigger than we are. Celebrate creations. Jump in the leaves, splash in the puddles, and feel the sun on our skin.

With Thanksgiving on our minds, it is a great time to encourage gratitude in our children.

By starting new traditions now, we can hope to encourage gratitude year round. Here are some simply Thanksgiving Traditions that can help our families “think grateful”.

Make a Gratitude Chain

Cut long strips of paper in different colors. Each day have family members, or help little family members, write down something they are thankful for. Take your stapler or tape and hook the strips together to form a chain. Hang it where the family can see it everyday and watch it grow. On Thanksgiving have each person read what they have written throughout the month.

Fill a Gratitude Jar

Any jar will work. Cut up strips of paper and round up some pens and crayons. Put the jar in an obvious place in your home. Everyday until Thanksgiving, have everyone in the family write or draw a picture of something they are thankful for that day and drop it in the jar. Help small children. On Thanksgiving day, pull all the strips out and read them as a family. Talk about how it felt to show increased gratitude all month long.

Have Grateful Hands

Once a week, throughout the month of November, trace the hand of everyone in the family. Sit down every Monday and write down 5 things you have each been thankful for that week. We like to write one in each of the fingers, like feathers. Tape the hands to your kitchen wall throughout the month so everyone can see them. Use the hands as a centerpiece for your Turkey Table. You could even laminate them after the holiday and post all the old ones each year as your children grow. They will love seeing how their hands, and their gratitude has grown.

Gratitude Tree

Head outside and find a few sticks and twigs. Put them in a jar and cover them with some rocks to hold them in place to make your own “tree”. Cut a bunch of leaves out of “fall colored” paper ( or just use tags, or small slips of paper). We have even used real leaves. As you write down what you are thankful for on your leaves, tape them, or tie them to your tree. Use your gratitude tree as your dinner centerpiece on Thanksgiving day

Thankful Tablecloth (My Favorite)

Find a big tablecloth. Or make one the size of your table. You will want a material that has a tight weave and that is smooth. On Thanksgiving Day, trace each person’s hand on the table cloth and write in the middle of the hand something they are thankful for and the year. Fabric markers work best. Each year, on the same cloth, enact the same ritual. Your family will love not only seeing how their hands have grown, but they will love to see what they were thankful for in the past.

Once thanksgiving is over, don’t let the gratitude stop.

  • Each night over dinner, have family members express three things they are thankful for that day.
  • Encourage your kids to keep a gratitude journal. Help them write down one thing they are thankful for each week. Or, have little ones draw pictures of things they are grateful for. Encourage them to move up to every night.
  • Clear a “grateful space” on your fridge. Throughout the year, post anything your family members are thankful for. Encourage family members to contribute. It can become an everyday reminder of the people and blessings your family is thankful for.

Above all things, start by focusing on our own behavior. This in and of itself will help model and teach our children gratitude.

Keeping Kids Safe: Common (& Not So Common) Choking Hazards

Keeping kids safe is top on the minds of most parents, but sometimes hazards are just not that obvious. Introducing foods to infants and toddlers can be great fun, but it also brings opportunities for danger. A little knowledge about how to avoid choking can go a long way in avoiding serious emergencies.

I wrote in a previous post about using pixie stix to get kids to take their medicine. I am going to co-opt this old favorite treat for our lesson about choking hazards. What does a powdered candy have to do with choking hazards, you might ask?

The text and photo from this blog demonstrates that kids can make nearly anything into a choking hazard:

pixie_stix

“Looks like fun, right? Probably. But a tube of powdered candy of that size might as well be a loaded gun. It’s frickin dangerous. I know.

When I was thirteen and tried putting the whole mega-Pixie Stick worth of flavored sugar in my mouth, I laughed and inhaled and the moisture in my throat hardened the sugar into a moist sugar ball lodged squarely in my trachea.

One my friends knew the Heimlich maneuver and managed to dislodge the bright blue coagulation into a psychedelic pool of vibrantly scarlet regurgitated Big Red Cola. It was the [last] time I touched either Pixie Stix or Big Red.

It wasn’t my time but I think, when I’m ready, that is exactly how I want to go.”

I love this post for several reasons…

  1. This photo is a pediatrician’s nightmare.
  2. That someone could avoid impaling himself with the sharp plastic tube but instead manage to obstruct his trachea with powdered candy is a mark of real talent. It’s amazing that we have any children left unharmed.
  3. I love the word “frickin” and will try to use it as often as possible in this blog and in my real life. Not to worry, I will avoid using it around kids.
  4. Speaking of near-death-by-food, I almost poked my eye out with a loaf of bread once. That story will probably never make it into this blog, so contact me directly if you’re interested. It is as embarrassing as it sounds….
  5. Though the Olympics was more than a year ago, swimming boys still make me think of Michael Phelps. I love Michael Phelps. I’m not the only one.

Seriously though, while pixie stix are not usually cited as top choking hazards, choking is a real hazard for children, and food is the number one culprit.

It’s amazing what a mostly-toothless little one can manage to eat. Starting at about 9 months of age, babies can begin to manage foods of a variety of textures and shapes. But remember, kids less than 4 years old may not chew, grind, or gum food well and are at great risk for choking. The most common choking hazards are round firm foods (hot dogs, grapes, nuts, popcorn), and sticky/gooey foods like peanut butter or sticky snacks and candies. Chunks of uncooked vegetables and fruits can also make their way down the wrong tube. Candy and gum top the list of foods that send choking children to the emergency room.

Tips for Parents:

How can you prevent choking? Here are a few tips…

  • Take an infant and child CPR class: if you did not take one before your child was born, try to do so by 6 months of age, before your little one starts solids. If you have taken the class, review the course materials as a little refresher.
  • To avert the need to perform these life-saving maneuvers on your child, avoid potentially hazardous food until your child is four to five years old. Cook foods well or cut firm foods into pieces less than 1/2 inch in size.
  • Give your child small portions, adding to his plate as he finishes.
  • Make (and enforce) a household rule that all food is eaten at the table. In a chair. And no eating while running (with scissors). Or playing. Or lying down. Or in a car (or a bus or a taxicab or hot air balloon).
  • Limit distractions (tv, pets, games, clowns) at mealtime.
  • Watch out for “chipmunking”: hoarding food in the cheeks of an eager eater. Kids really do this.
  • Keep helpful older sibs from feeding the little one. They will not provide the same level of supervision that you will.
  • And most importantly, NEVER leave a young child alone while eating.

Useful Links:

Special Needs Kids Are All Around Us – Please Teach Acceptance

Maybe I am sensitized to the topic, but it seems like everywhere I turn these days people are talking about special needs kids.  Sometimes it’s sad, like the Canadian boy who took his own life, and sometimes it’s joyful, like the radio DJ who asked, “What can we do better to help kids with special needs in our community?”

Clearly kids with special needs is a hot topic. I hope this is a trend toward acceptance.

Additionally just this past weekend, U.S. President-elect Joseph Biden Jr. said the following in his acceptance speech: “We must make the promise of the country real for everybody — no matter their race, their ethnicity, their faith, their identity, or their disability.”  What followed was a deluge of appreciation on Twitter – it was the first time a President or Prime Minister had included the disabled in their call for a better future.

Each time you see someone who is different you have a chance to teach your child that the person has rights in our society just by saying hello to them, holding a door open or even just smiling. Actions really do speak louder than words, and it may give you a chance to examine your own attitudes and prejudices.

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Editor’s Note:  The federal funding law for autism, was renewed in 2019 for another five years as the Autism CARES Act of 2019. The original law was signed by President George W. Bush and the 2011 and 2014 bills were signed by President Obama and the 2019 law by President Trump. Total funding under the act should exceed $369 million by 2024 for autism research, services, training and monitoring by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Surprising Similarities Between Child Raising and Dog Training

Puppy Jack russell terrier lying on a carpet and looking guilty.Having been a professional dog trainer for many years, there is always one pitfall we trainers have to be careful to avoid when talking to customers and that is using ‘dog speak’ – or terminology that is very well known among us in the canine world, but to the everyday person means nothing.  So to avoid this I use numerous analogies during my training sessions to make sure my clients understand exactly what I am talking about.  I try to find examples that are common in everyday life – and more often than not, I find myself equating training situations to those that are similar with raising kids…especially when I am dealing with parents.

I know…it sounds strange, but it works.  Picture “little Johnny” instead of “little Pup-Pup” and all of a sudden, the things you would normally sit there and say “I have absolutely no idea why my dog is doing that”, suddenly become clear.  So, that being said, here are some of the more “useful” analogies I’ve shared with my customers …and some funny scenarios they’ve in turn shared with me…

Housebreaking and Potty training.  When a customer is having trouble with this task, they tell me they let the pup out, it played for hours, then came back in and peed or pooped on the floor.  There are actually three “kids and dogs” analogies I typically use to help customers make sense of this.

  • The first thing I will ask them is “Did you leash the pup and go out with them?” Usually they tell me no. So here, I will say to them…. When you potty trained your child…. Did you bring them to the bathroom door, send them inside, close the door and hope they went? Or, did you physically bring them inside, pull down their pants, put them on the toilet, and wait with them until they went? And after they went, did you just pick them up off the bowl and send them away? Or did you praise them, smile and clap your hands, give them some stickers for doing a good job?” So….. the only difference between potty training and housebreaking, besides the obvious leash and collar, indoors/outdoors thing, is that the dog gets a biscuit instead of a cookie, and we forgo the stickers and give them a toy instead! Other than that, it is the same…. You have to physically be there, stay with them, and praise when it is done.
  • Part two of the same example I just gave is that the dog is getting confused what the outside is for if they are allowed to go outside and play for hours. So for this, I tell my customers that the analogy I am about to give them is a bit outlandish, but makes its point….. I tell them, If you kept ALL of your child’s toys in the bathroom, how would you know if they wanted to go in there to play, or if they had to make? This lets the dog’s owners know that the only time pup/dog should be outside is to go potty…. Not to play…. At least until they understand what the outside is for.
  • Part three of the above example I gave is when a customer is upset that they have been working on housebreaking for two weeks… why is this not done yet… I ask them, “How long did it take your child to potty train? Did they get it overnight or in a few days? Just like potty training, housebreaking takes patience, time, and consistency.

Distractions. When we are training, I tell the customer to put all the pup’s toys away while we are training…and to do the same when they are practicing.   Just like turning the TV off when their kids are doing their homework…the kids are not going to be able to concentrate with all those distractions in the background, and neither is the pup!

Calm a Hyper Pup. Another analogy I find myself using – usually with puppies and very hyper dogs – is in response to an owner complaining about how they let their dog run and play outside for hours to burn up their energy, and they came back in just as crazy.  How can they fix this?  My response… with training. Then I go on to ask them when their child goes to a birthday party, there is plenty of running around, playing, etc… but very little focused work that requires brain power, so more often than not, their child comes home still rearing to go! However, put that exact same child in a classroom for the same amount of time, they come home ready for a nap. Mental stimulation is ALWAYS more taxing and tiring than physical.

Consistency. Finally, here are some additional analogies I offer my clients to help bring home why practicing what their pups have learned during training makes such a huge difference.

  • One question I get asked all the time – especially by clients who call to inquire about my one-week boot-camping (intensive training) program – is “After the week is done, will they know all of the commands they need to be a really well behaved dog?” Sounds logical…it is an “intensive” training course. Now I ask them to think about this a little differently. If your child goes to kindergarten for one week and learns their A,B.C’s…. are they ready for college? This just puts the question into perspective for them and gives them a more realistic understanding that in a week I can teach all of the basics, but it is up to them to follow through and continue with their training.
  • Also, when we are talking about consistency regarding a dog’s training, when I am asked why they need to keep drilling the dog on even basic commands such as SIT and STAY in different locations, I explainIt’s for the same reason they hold fire-drills in the schools. They do not want to wait until there is an actual emergency and hope the children will know what to do”. In your living room, with no distractions around, it is great that your dog knows the commands…. But in an emergency, it is imperative that your dog knows to follow the same commands with no hesitations.  You want to know when the fire-bell rings, the kids jump up, find their buddy, get in line, no one is scared, everyone is accounted for, no one gets overlooked and no one gets hurt.  And when you’re out with your dog – you want to know you’ve put the same safety net in place.

So, as I’ve said, it can be very helpful when trying to explain a dog training concept to a parent, to relate it to a child raising experience.

What can be very funny however, is sometimes…when I least expect it… a dog training concept I worked on with the owner works “in reverse” with the child.

My favorite story of this was little Sophia.  The entire session, this child’s name was repeated over and over and over again. Seeing this was going to make training difficult for this poor puppy, I decided to forgo the usual first commands of SIT and STAY, and work on a “WATCH ME” command. The purpose of this is that no matter what distractions are going on, when you say this command, your dog should look directly at you. We worked on the command the entire session, and the pup was focusing on us and paying attention like a champ! At the end of the session, we went over to the table where my date book was (Sophia had now climbed up on the table) and while I went through my date book, all I heard was, “Sophia stop it!! Sophia, leave that alone! Sophia, get down….” On and on it went. Next thing I know, Sophia has opened MY pocketbook, and has started to go through it. The mother was mortified, and after a minute of yelling at her to “leave it alone, get off the table, stop it” (all requests being ignored), I hear a second of silence, and the mother yells, “SOPHIA!! WATCH ME!!” …and the kid stopped dead in her tracks and stared at her Mom right in the eyes!! Her Mom at that point begged me to move in!

Not unlike little Sophia, there have been other times after a training, when I hear the parent use a technique we worked on with the dog (like STAY!!) … with their child (hand signal included)!!  And it always cracks me up when they turn to me and say, “IT WORKS!!!”

For the record…even though I’ve had a number of my customers at the end of a successful session ask …  I don’t train children or husbands!!  🙂