Here's a vignette regarding lying. See if you can relate to this. One day
you see a student take a calculator off of your desk and put it in his own desk.
You are surprised, angered and bewildered. You later approach the boy and start
a conversation like this:
"How's it going?"
glad I got a B on my math test."
"Speaking of math, have you seen
"No, where do you keep it?"
"What color is it?"
"OK, listen, young man. You're
lying to me. I saw you take it
In this conversation the
teacher is "cornering" the youngster. Sure, she wants to get
some information, but first the teacher wants to test the boy to see if he'll
tell the truth. Is this the right way to handle the situation?
is no. When you know some kind of trouble has occurred, don't corner children. When you corner a child, you give him a chance to practice lying.
may think to yourself, "Sooner or later he'll realize he can't fool me and
he'll give up the charade." Sometimes kids do give up during an interrogation,
but many children will continue trying to take the easy way out first. They will
simply work to become better liars and you will be helping to provide them with
their practice sessions.
Here's a more constructive approach.
Imagine something bad has happened. You either know the truth or you don't. If
you don't know what occurred, ask the youngster once what happened. If he tells
you the story and you find out later that the child lied, punish him for whatever
the original offense was and, using the Major/Minor System, for the lie as well.
try not to surprise the child by asking your questions "impulsively,"
or on the spur of the moment. Many kids will simply respond back impulsively.
They'll lie, but their real desire is just to end the conversation, get rid of
you and stay out of trouble. For example, imagine something bad has happened and
you already know all the gory details. You might say something like this to a
student: "I want you to tell me the story of what happened at lunch today.
but not right now. Think about it a while and we'll talk in fifteen minutes. But
remember I already talked with the lunch monitor." No lectures or tantrums
There is another option many adults use when (1) they already know what happened and (2) the child is very likely to
lie about the event no matter how the questions are phrased. In this case you
simply tell the youngster what you know and then calmly mete out the punishment.
You do not even give the child the chance to lie. This is what the teacher whose
calculator was taken should have done. When confronted like this, some kids will
still blow up and accuse you of not trusting them (testing tactic #2, temper).
Manage the testing by ignoring their statement or counting them, and end the conversation
with, "I'm sure you'll do better next time."
you have a child who uses lying regularly to avoid unpleasant tasks, such as schoolwork
or classroom chores, try also to fix the problem-as much as you can-so that lying
does not seem necessary to the child. If your student continually lies about having
his homework finished, for example, work out some kind of written communication,
such as a daily assignment sheet. For classroom jobs, consider fixing the problem
by the judicious use of other Start behavior strategies.
Lying is not good,
but it certainly isn't the end of the world either. Most people, children as well
as adults, probably tell a few "stretchers" from time to time. Not telling
the truth doesn't mean that a student is bound to end up as an inmate in a federal
penitentiary. Lying is a problem, though, and it needs to be managed carefully
and thoughtfully. Over the years, frequent emotional overreactions from adults,
combined with badgering and cornering-can help produce Accomplished Liars.
Phelan PhD, Thomas and Sarah Jane Schonour, MA, "1-2-3 Magic for Teachers:
Effective Classroom Discipline Pre-K through Grade 8", ParentMagic, Inc:
Reflection Exercise #8
The preceding section contained information
about dealing with lying. Write three case study examples regarding how you might
use the content of this section in your practice.
Online Continuing Education
What is a reason "verbally cornering" a child is not a good
idea, however practiced by many therapists and teachers? Record the letter of
the correct answer the .