Archive for the ‘Lying’ Category

How do you Teach Honesty? The difference between “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “George Washington and the Cherry Tree”

November 15, 2010 2 comments

In the book NurtureShock, authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman discuss research by Dr. Victoria Talwar, one of the leading experts on children’s lying behavior. During one of Dr. Talwar’s experiments, reading the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree (George confesses he chops downs a prized cherry tree with a hatchet and the father forgives him and says to hear George tell the truth is better than having a thousand cherry trees) cut down lying in boys by 75 percent and in girls by 50 percent. While 75 percent of parents polled by Bronson and Merryman on their website ( believed The Boy Who Cried Wolf would reduce lying, it actually served to increase it slightly.

In essence, what Dr. Talwar’s research found is that children lie to make parents happy. Most parents respond to lies with anger and punishment. She found in her experiment with six-year olds that what really reduces lying is for the parent to say that they are not upset with the transgression and that if the child tells the truth, they will make the parent very happy. While it also reduces lying to say that the child will make him/herself very happy, young kids are most focused on making their parent happy, hence the greater effect when saying it in the context of the parent’s happiness.

The other reason that children lie, Talwar notes, is that they learn it from us in the most subtle ways – white lies and disapproval about tattling. More on that some other time.