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07 Aug, Sunday
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Montreal Families

How to encourage honesty in kids

It is probably safe to say that most parents punish their children when they lie. But according to a new Montreal study, this might not be the best way to stop them from fibbing in the future. In fact, it may have the opposite effect.

A team of researchers, led by Victoria Talwar, a professor at McGill University’s Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, surveyed 372 kids between the ages of 4 and 8 to find out whether they would tell the truth or lie when given the chance.

Each child was brought into a room one at a time and instructed to sit on a chair while a toy was placed on a table behind them. They were told that they would be left in the room for a minute and they weren’t allowed to turn around and look at the toy.

What the children didn’t know was that they were being filmed by hidden cameras. When the researcher returned, she asked the children if they had snuck a peek at the toy.

Researchers discovered that:

1) Slightly more than two-thirds of children did peek at the toy and, for every one month increase in age, children were less likely to have done so.

2) Two-thirds of the kids lied about having peeked and this was also more prevalent in the younger age group.

3)  Children were less likely to be honest if they were afraid of being punished.

4)  Younger children told the truth more to please adults whereas the older ones did so because it is the right thing to do.

In a previous study, children who were raised in a strict environment or with corporal punishment were more likely to lie, regardless of age. Talwar notes that chronic lying can lead to significant problems in adolescence and behavioural problems related to aggression, delinquency, and conduct disorders.

So if punishing kids for lying is not a deterrent, how can parents deal with fibbing? Talwar says the key is to teach children about the importance of honesty. Creating an environment where open communication is welcomed allows them to be honest with parents and talk to them about anything. “Parents play a big role in fostering honesty at an early age,” Talwar said. “It pays off down the road.”

If you are interested in participating with your child in studies on children’s honesty or other topics on children’s social-emotional development, contact the Talwar Child Development Research lab at 514-398-8059.

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