Reading time: 4 minutes
It can be hugely frustrating when you know an individual in your setting isn’t telling you the truth. It can range from huge, obvious fibs to little white lies. But, remember, we’re all guilty of lying from time to time. As children grow older, they realise they can cover up the truth or make themselves sound better with lies. It’s something adults do, too—us included!
Reasons behind somebody telling lies include:
- To get themselves out of trouble
- Trying to cover up inappropriate behaviour
- To get approval from peers
- Improve their popularity
- Boost self esteem
- Testing out a new behaviour to see what happens
Some individuals lie impulsively. They don’t even think about what they’re saying and just tell you what you want to hear. So, for example, if you ask an individual if they have made their bed this morning, or completed their homework, they say “yes” immediately, even though you know they haven’t.
Other reasons for lying
A child, young person or adult in your setting may also lie if they feel low, stressed, or depressed:
- “I slept fine last night”
- “I ate all of my lunch today”
- “I’m not worried about seeing him!”
These lies can help take your attention away from the root cause; the individual may be lying because they don’t want you to feel worried about them.
If you’re concerned that an individual in your care is lying to cover up a bigger mental wellbeing need, it’s important to raise your concerns with your team and follow your organisation’s safeguarding policies. You may need to report it to your Designated Safeguarding Lead. Speak to their parent or carer about your worries where appropriate, too.
What should I do when an individual struggles to tell the truth?
There’s no one way to deal with lying or covering up the truth because there are so many reasons children, young people and adults might do it. Investigate the situation: What reason do they have for lying? Instead of focusing on their behaviour and what they did, think about why they did it.
For impulsive lies, give them a chance to think again. You could say, “Can you think again about your answer?” or “I’m going to walk away for five minutes so you can think about if what you’ve said is truthful, then I’ll ask you again.” Take the heat out of the situation and avoid making it a confrontation. If they do answer truthfully, thank them and praise them for it. We can all struggle to be honest from time to time.
If the individual is lying routinely, you can gently call out their behaviour, again without making it a confrontation. You might say, “Why don’t you start again and tell me what actually happened?” Avoid labelling them as “a liar” or they could feel you’ll never believe them.
Focus on the problem, not forcing an admittance of responsibility
If you know what the problem is, focus on this rather than forcing the individual to admit to doing it. For example, if somebody spills a glass of water onto the chair, there’s no point asking, “Did you spill the water?” when you know they did. Instead, you might say, “I’m upset the chair is wet. Can you tell me what happened?”
In line with the policies you use, when the situation is more serious, you may give the individual a consequence for this behaviour if it is appropriate for your setting. If you do, ensure it is small, reasonable and time limited. Make it explicit that this will happen every time they purposefully lie, so they know what the consequence will be. Keeping your response consistent means there are no surprises about what will happen when they do it. Do think carefully about this approach as your aim is to encourage the individuals you work with to tell the truth, not to make them to take responsibility for things that aren’t their fault out of a fear of possible consequences.
Often individuals don’t tell the truth to cover up something they’ve done, like lying about finishing an activity or task they were asked to do. This may be out of a worry they’ll get in trouble, but also feeling like they’ve disappointed you or let you down. Separate out the two issues, the action itself, and then lying to cover it up. These are two different things. You can remind them it’s better to be honest when something goes wrong.
Praise them when they are honest about a situation. You could say, “I’m pleased you told me the truth, even though it was hard to do that.”
Remind them that everyone gets things wrong sometimes and that they can choose to behave differently next time. Ensure you spend time reassuring the young person or adult that the relationship between you is not tarnished. It is important that they know they can move on from the incident.