Posted: May 08, 2013 10:00 AM
 
Ashley Merryman co-authored the bestselling — and non-traditional — parenting book, Nurture Shock. While all of the chapters are intriguing, the one about lying really struck us. Many parents worry about their kids lying all the time, so we talked to Merryman to find out what she has to say about that.

My Kid Lies- Nurtureshock coverOften called pot stirrers, co-authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman wrote the bestselling book Nurture Shock. One hundred percent brain and research based, Nurture Shock changed the way parents all around the world talk to children.

We sat down with Merryman to discuss the Nurture Shock chapter about lying. She first caught our attention with her positive spin on this usually worrisome topic. Merryman says, "Before she had kids, a colleague of mine was asked how she'd handle it if her own children lied. She said that she'd address it with them, but she'd be secretly excited. I understood completely."

Brainy kids

In order to lie, kids need to realize that there's an alternate reality even though they know what the real deal is, then they have to sell the fake reality without letting on that they know it's fake.

We absolutely had to know why the excitement about lying children. Here's what Merryman taught us. In brain-based research, there's a Theory of Mind — a concept to help us understand thinking. Merryman says, "A child needs to have a certain level of cognitive ability to realize that an adult knows something different than they do." Research indicates that lying is uber complicated. Merryman explains why: "In order to lie, kids need to realize that there's an alternate reality even though they know what the real deal is, then they have to sell the fake reality without letting on that they know it's fake." According to Merryman, understanding all of this well enough to lie indicates a higher cognitive ability — or having older siblings!

Caught red-handed

Of course, lying still needs to be addressed with children. In fact, Merryman advocates that no lie should go ignored. She says, "Research shows that those first lies really stick with kids. It's the first time they weren't being Mommy and Daddy's little angel and the first time they challenged how they thought of themselves. If they got caught, they likely rarely lied again. But if they got away with it, that's a different story."

tape recorder

One of Merryman's colleagues ran a study that consisted of a tape recorder and some lies. Adults were asked to go into a room and anonymously — and completely untraceably — tape record the worst lie they ever told. Among car theft, adultery and even murder, people confessed to lies like eating the frosting off of their fifth birthday cake and saying it came from the store that way and carving a sibling's initials into Mom's desk, so the sibling would get into trouble! The results were clear — first lies and what happened as a result of them, make an impression.

Why the lies

...lying is only a true concern if it's a child's go-to strategy for any difficulty.

The next hot topic on most parents' minds, after wondering if they've accidentally raised a demon child — which, incidentally, research shows that they didn't — is why do kids lie. Merryman says there are four reasons: "Some kids lie to get out of social situations — adults sometimes model this when a telemarketer calls. Others are pretend playing, which to them — and to us — is hardly a lie at all. Still others are trying to improve their social status by boasting about toys or experiences that they actually don't have. And last, some children lie to impress you." Of these, while all lies besides pretend play need to be addressed, Merryman says that lying is only a true concern if it's a child's go-to strategy for any difficulty.

So what's a mom to do?

So now we know there's no reason to stress when our children occasionally lie, but we did ask Merryman for her advice on what to do about lying. She left us with a few gems that — not surprisingly — center around how to talk to kids about lies: 

  • Start the conversation around the dinner table before there's a real issue to discuss. Explain what a "white lie" is and when you might use it, so when a lie does come up, you have a starting point such as, "Remember when we talked about white lies? This is one of those times."
  • Repeat reminders such as "honesty is good" in regular, ongoing conversations rather than just as reactions to problems. "Lying is bad" is a different message and really shouldn't be used. Since we all lie sometimes, we want to avoid the "bad" label.
  • Be specific with kids about why we lie and why we sometimes ask them to lie. The all too common unwanted birthday present scandal can be handled as simply and specifically as, "I know being honest is best, but we don't want to hurt Grandma's feelings and that's why we're lying."
  • Address every lie. Just because we don't always have time to talk it out or explain ourselves in the moment, it doesn't make lying less troublesome to kids.
  • Figure out why your child lied and help her or him solve that problem.

To learn more, check out Nurture Shock and Top Dog, Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson's brand new work of heart — and brain!

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