Should we encourage our children to lie?


Matthew Slavin, Kinship Care Helpline Supervisor

On the face of it this question seems a no brainer. Of course there are issues with children lying!

It can be exhausting when young children deliberately lie. I remember myself being asked “Did you cut your hair”, at the age of 5, when I was missing a square cut from my fringe. “No” was my answer. “OK. Well, which scissors did you use?”, “The orange ones”, I replied. This very common back and forth can be agonising, but it is a normal stage in development.

Very small children, under the age of 3 or 4 are simply unable to lie. As far as they are aware, anyone and everyone can read their mind. So, for a young tot, parents are ‘mind-readers’. They fundamentally believe that you can read their thoughts and feelings. At the age of 3 or 4, neuro-typical children begin to be able to work out that others may think differently to themselves. They begin to learn that what you might think may be different than what I may think. As a result, children use this new skill and practice their new ability through such things as lying. As frustrating as it may be, lies are a normal part of development.

While lying is a normal part of growing up, it can also be extremely worrying. For instance, lying about serious issues can be extremely concerning. Sometimes children are asked to lie and keep secrets to protect others. A child who has been abused may be asked to keep secrets and lie to others. In such cases, it’s always important for your child to know they can come to you with any problem, no matter how big or small and you will always be there to support them.


Recently we heard from a kinship carer who was at the end of her tether. Julie looks after her 8-year-old grandson due to his mum’s drug and alcohol dependency. Julie called us feeling stuck and exhausted from the constant lies and exaggerations about his mum.

Do these things sound familiar? “My mum is an astronaut”, “She’s the fastest runner in the world”, “my mum takes me on holidays whenever I want”, “my mum has a swimming pool full of ice-cream”.

I wonder… could there be some positives in lying? What if we look at things a little different. Rather than ‘telling stories’, what about seeing it as ‘storytelling’?

What we have experienced shapes what we think and feel about ourselves. Our life story shapes our identity. The story: “mum abandoned me, drinks too much and never turns up” is a harsh reality to accept. So, what if we could imagine a better story? We could tell our friends, our loved ones, and ourselves the story we want to hear.

We spend much of our lives avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. For children who have been through trauma, storytelling is one way they can escape the painful stories and enjoy the fantasies they wish were true. Wouldn’t it be great if we could escape the heartbreak? Some young children do exactly that when they tell tall tales.

A difficult question rarely has a simple answer. It might be satisfying to have a one word conclusion, but that would miss the point here. Lying is not as black and white as it seems.

If you’ve had challenges with lying, we’d love to hear from you!

Call: 08000 28 22 33, text: 07860 022844

Web-chat at:

Leaving home

ParentLine volunteer Helen on why out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind when it comes to children.

When it comes to bringing up children, it’s fair to say that there is an endless stream of milestones to meet and potential concerns. As parents we seem to spend a huge amount of our time worrying about each step that our child will take, both the literal first steps, and then the figurative ones as they test the boundaries and grow as individuals. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride for any family with lots of highs and lows along the way – and we can be left at the end of it wondering how on earth any of us survived!

But what happens when the next step is a really big one and your child decides to leave home and move out independently into the world? This might be through higher education, a job offer in another part of the country, or maybe they just want to travel overseas for a while and experience more of the world.

Whatever the reason, the concerns you have as a parent don’t suddenly stop. It’s not a question of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. In fact, it might even be harder because – without the daily contact – it can be difficult to check out how your child is doing, particularly if that child is craving independence and only communicates monosyllabically by text once in a blue moon!

Are they eating properly? Have they made new friends? Are they keeping themselves safe? Can they cope with all the challenges ahead of them? As parents, these concerns are all real, and knowing how to address them can be as challenging as actually watching the child go in the first place.

But that’s what ParentLine is for: to listen to those worries and concerns, to talk them through and to offer support. At ParentLine we don’t claim to be able to provide the answer to every question but we can offer you the emotional support that you might need right now. And we have the resources to point you in the direction of more specialised support if necessary.

Hopefully, by giving you the space and time to explore your concerns, this will leave you in a better place to support your child, if and when they need it.

Call: 08000 28 22 33, text: 07860 022844

Web-chat at:

Children’s fears of terrorism are real – but parents can bring proportion

“Will our airport blow up?” Kirsty asked. It seemed an unusual question but her mum knew why she was asking.

For the last week Kirsty had been talking about the terrorist attack in Brussels after seeing the start of the 6 o’ clock news. Chat with friends at school seemed to have increased her anxiety and, with their trip to France coming up, the result was nightmares and Kirsty, aged 8, coming into bed with mum and dad every night.

It’s impossible for children to not hear about terrible things that happen in the world and the recent increase in terrorist attacks in Europe is bound to mean more worries for some children.

So how should we help our children like Kirsty deal with such worries?

Children 1st runs ParentLine, the Scottish national helpline, and we get parents and carers like Kirsty’s mum calling us about a whole range of issues, including the worries children and young people have. Our aim is to help parents and carers help their children, or get help from elsewhere if that’s needed.

The first important thing to point out is that your child has already done something positive by talking with you. So try and make sure you help them continue this good habit. You want them to come to you with their worries rather than bottling them up. You can do this by taking them seriously, not making them feel their worries are stupid but helping them get a more realistic perspective.

You also don’t want to communicate your anxieties about this too much. You want them to talk about their own fears and you don’t want them to get more upset about you. So, try and listen calmly.

Secondly, you want them to have a realistic understanding of risk. Whilst really bad things do happen, very occasionally, the likelihood of your child being the victim of a terrorist attack is very small. So help them to understand all of the times people use airports and nothing happens, all of the safe journeys people usually make. You want them to have a reasonable understanding of the world where there are lots of good people who want to help children even though there are some situations they should avoid. Also, help them know that if they do see something they are worried about, there are people like you, their schoolteacher, a police officer, or a trusted friend, who they can talk to.

Difficult conversations with children are opportunities for you to build an even better relationship with them. And if they are coming to you now when they are worried about a terrorist attack, you want to build that relationship so they will come to you when they need to talk about exam stress, worries about growing up, poor self-image and difficult relationships with friends and boy or girl friends. Listening to their fears without minimising them is key to helping children feel heard and understood and therefore reducing their anxiety.

Parenting and caring for children is sometimes really hard for all of us. Just talking things through with someone else can help you do the best for your kids. So phone or text Parentline if you want to check out how best to help your children.

Call: 08000 28 22 33, text: 07860 022844

Web-chat at:

Finding strength in small changes

Children 1st local managers Froya Rossvoll and Lorna Mulholland explain how our work in Aberdeenshire is making a difference to children and families.

Here’s a story about an Aberdeenshire family: a mum, dad and three young children. Neither parents had a job. Mum was at college, but was finding juggling that with family life stressful. Dad, who had a traditional view of family roles and suffered from long-standing mental health issues, wasn’t helping out as much as he could. They lived out in the countryside and were quite isolated – some days their car worked, some days it didn’t. The children had limited routines, and home life was chaotic. The youngest, age three, wasn’t speaking yet, which was a worry.

We offered to support the family with regular visits from a Children 1st worker. We got a clear picture of what would help with a lens called ‘My World Triangle’. We discussed the Triangle with the couple to establish a shared understanding of what was working well, what they were struggling with, and what could be improved. We agreed priorities to focus on. But we knew we’d need to be flexible, always reviewing progress, and adjusting support as family needs and circumstances changed.


We helped the mum who struggled with cooking, to prepare meals. We demonstrated how mealtimes could be made sociable and enjoyable for the whole family. We supported both parents to establish family routines and good habits: for getting up and going to bed, for helping out, for doing homework, and for treating each other with courtesy. We used play sessions with their youngest designed to develop language skills. We brought books and other resources to encourage learning and make it fun.

We were proactive. We challenged dad to do more to help mum, and to understand how his behaviour was affecting his family. We worked in partnership with mental health services to ensure he was getting the full range of support he needed.

Things began to look up. The couple started planning ahead. They got better at agreeing and sharing tasks and at sticking to routines. Dad, feeling more confident, began looking for volunteering opportunities. Having set routines allowed mum to find time for study. Their youngest child’s language came on. They moved to better accommodation in a town and became less isolated. They were now a stronger family, so we were able to say goodbye.

Without Children 1st the family’s situation could have reached crisis point. We helped prevent that. And we’re doing the same for families, with children from birth to age eight, across Aberdeenshire. We’re introduced to families by professionals such as health visitors, who have spotted issues such as a developmental delay in a child or that a family is isolated and disconnected from their community. These professionals know that whether a family sinks or swims can be down to small changes – a load lightened, a habit changed, strengths found. That’s our speciality.

Creating win, win, wins in the West of Scotland

Children 1st local manager Ruth Ritchie explains how through partnership we’re making a bigger difference for children and families in Argyll and Bute.

Tiree is the most westerly island of the Inner Hebrides. Getting there from the mainland isn’t cheap or easy. But for the Children 1st Argyll and Bute team it’s vital, as there are children there who need our support to recover from abuse and other traumatic experiences. So how, with our time and budget already stretched, could we do it?

We asked Argyll and Bute Council to help. It gave us an extra £30,000 initially, to reach children in remote locations such as Tiree and give them one-to-one support for up to six months.

That’s just one example of how our partnerships locally are enabling us to do more with and for children and families. Another is that we’re working with statutory and third sector partners to establish a central point for discussion of children and families’ needs, and for coordination of action to address them. We also benefit from being co-located and integrated with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health services team for the area.

Our partners involve us in their work because they recognise the quality of our contribution. For example we have staff with expertise in Systemic Family Therapy, an approach that looks at families as a whole, not just children, and helps them address deeply rooted issues that in some instances originate in the childhood experiences of parents. That recognition was demonstrated by a recent council funding decision. It decided to invest in family support we provide as part of a local Public Social Partnership for an additional year, following conclusion of its initial Scottish Government funding.

Our partners also tell us whenever there’s an addition to the local child protection register. That’s a trigger for us to offer support to children aged five and older so that their voice is heard when formal decisions are made about them. After decisions are made, we ask children and families how the experience was for them and feed that back to the Argyll and Bute Child Protection Committee. A lot can be learned from this: for example how and why tensions can form in relationships between families and social workers and how these might be eased.

So it’s a win, win, win situation – for us, for our statutory partners and, most importantly, for children and families.

Can we teach empathy?

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” – Aristotle

What is empathy?

Empathy involves being able to identify emotions, understand and explain emotions, and respond appropriately to those emotions. At its heart lies an awareness and sensitivity to our own and others’ feelings.

Some children find it harder to understand their own emotions and act in ways that are empathic.


Why might children struggle with empathy?

There are a number of reasons why children may struggle to manage their own emotions and show empathy. One reason for this can be traumatic and disruptive early life experiences. Challenges in early life, such as being neglected, physically abused or living with constantly changing caregivers can make it harder for children to develop high levels of empathy.

So, if some children struggle to act with empathy, can we help them learn?

Can we teach empathy?

Although some children may struggle more than others, there is lots of research that says ‘yes – most children can learn empathy’. It takes time and perseverance, however, just the same as getting physically fit. Going to the gym once or even twice may not make long-lasting changes. We need to think about social and emotional fitness in the same way. Qualities like self-awareness, empathy, and self-regulation need to be learned and practiced time after time in order to see gains.

To set children up for success, we must equip them with the right tools ahead of time. Rather than wait for the crisis to occur. There are a number of ways we can help develop skills essential to emotional understanding and empathy.

Six ways to promote empathy and compassion in children (Dr. Schonert-Reichl)

  1. Face-to-face play with babies and toddlers

Eye contact and lots of face-to-face play are essential for teaching children about emotions. Teach them what it means to laugh and what it looks like to be sad.

  1. What not to do: rewards!

When given rewards e.g. sweets, children actually help less than when no rewards are given or when only verbal praise is given. Rewards may undermine the positive feelings we naturally experience when we help others.

  1. Don’t underestimate a child’s capacity for empathy and sympathy

Look for opportunities to practice forgiveness and to make things right. If a child hurts another child, instead of telling them off, ask them to see how the other child must be feeling and think of ways they could make the hurt child feel better.

  1. Encouraging school-age children to discuss their feelings

Encourage children to talk about their emotions and point out that they have the power to make others happy by being kind and generous to them.

  1. Maximize support and minimize punishment.

“Every child requires someone in his or her life who is absolutely crazy about them” – Urie Bronfrenbrenner.

Show you care by acknowledging your own mistakes with your children, demonstrating forgiveness, and remembering that children will learn more from your actions than from your words.

  1. Help develop a caring and kind identity

Instead of a saying, “That was a kind thing to do,” say, “You are such a kind person”.

Making a difference in Moray – the holistic way

Children 1st local manager Lorna Mulholland explains how our work in Moray is making a difference to children and families.

It’s Saturday morning, and a Moray family is getting ready to go out. Just like other families across the county. But there’s a difference. Until recently this family was mum, dad and two children. Now there are five children – the additional three having come to live with their aunt and uncle because their own parents couldn’t look after them.

There’s another difference. They aren’t going to the cafe, beach, cinema, or to do whatever ‘typical’ Moray families do. They’re going to meet other kinship care families like them at a monthly get-together lunch organised by Children 1st. When they arrive, the children head off to see their new friends. While they play, the adults share experiences, off-load frustrations, and get advice and support to help their newly expanded families thrive.

Monthly get-togethers aren’t the only thing Children 1st offers the family. In regular visits we’re helping them adjust from being a family of four one day, to a family of seven the next. We’re helping them to liaise with social workers and make sense of differences between social services in Scotland and in England, from where the three children came.  And there’s the one-to-one support we’re giving to the children – to help the new arrivals recover from the scary, traumatic experiences that put them in kinship care – and to help the family’s original two children adjust to a new life with their cousins.

Our work with kinship care families is a great example of our approach to supporting families in Moray more generally. We don’t focus solely on any one child, but look at the needs of the other family members too because we know that children do best as part of strong and happy families.

We’ve also been breaking down compartments in our own practice. So it matters less whether a worker’s post is funded to help mums affected by domestic violence, or to support children’s recovery from abuse and other traumatic experiences, or for advocacy work that enables children to have a say in formal decisions. What’s more important is that skills and experience across the whole Moray team can be mobilised to meet children’s and families’ needs in a holistic way.