The best way to help your child tell the truth and be honest, is to not threaten them with punishment if they spill the beans and fess up. That's the primary finding of a study conducted at McGill University in Canada with 372 children between the ages of 4 and 8.
The study left each child in a room alone for one minute with a toy that was placed behind them on a table. Researchers told the child not to look behind them to see the toy, then left the room. A hidden camera recorded what went on in their absence.
When the researchers returned to the room, they asked the child a simple question: “When I was gone, did you turn around and peek at the toy?”
Some kids were told, “If you looked at the toy, you will be in trouble” and others were told, “If you looked at the toy, you won't be in trouble.”
Lots of little liars
It will come as no surprise that 68 percent of the kids looked at the toy, and almost all of them (67 percent) lied about doing so. Results indicated that with age, children are more likely to lie and maintain their lie during follow-up questioning.
What was interesting was that children were less likely to tell the truth if they feared a consequence, as opposed to telling the truth either because it would please the adult or because it was the right thing to do and would make the child feel good.
The research found that younger children were more intent on telling the truth because they thought it would please the adults, the older children had more of a conscience which made them tell the truth because it was the right thing to do.
“The bottom line is that punishment does not promote truth-telling,” says Victoria Talwar of McGill’s Dept. of Educational and Counselling Psychology, the lead researcher on the study. “In fact, the threat of punishment can have the reverse effect by reducing the likelihood that children will tell the truth when encouraged to do so."
Talwar added that parents can encourage honesty by creating a safe place to tell the truth.