Kids, homework and lies

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Anne Hollands
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Listen to psychologist Anne Hollonds chat with James O'Loghlin on what to do when the dog eats the homework.

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Views expressed in interviews may not be the views of the NSW Department of Education and Communities.
Transcript

At a glance

  • If your child is lying about their homework occasionally, don't panic. Recognise that it's normal and they may just be testing the boundaries.
  • If lying about homework becomes a pattern, it could be a sign of a bigger problem such as your child not coping at school or coping with a family problem.
  • When kids lie about their homework explain the importance of that homework but also how lying damages relationships and doesn't get them far in life.
  • Talk to your child in a positive environment, don't make it a big negative drama because the child won't be listening, they'll be blocking it out.
  • If the lying persists seek professional help from the school counsellor, GP, community health centre or family counsellor.

James O'Loghlin

Welcome to School A to Z. Hello this is James O'Loghlin.

Homework – remember it? Do you remember how, just occasionally, it could be oddly satisfying to do it? Sometimes. But it would never, ever create any sort of enthusiasm at all, the idea of having to do it. In fact, sometimes kids lie to their parents to avoid doing homework; they say they haven't got any, or they say they've already done it.

Anne Hollonds is a psychologist and joins us to talk about kids, homework and lies.

Hello Anne.

Anne Hollonds

Hi James.

James

Common lies – I've already done it, I didn't get any – any others? Are they the main ones?

Anne

They're the main ones. I guess, you know, there is "the dog ate my homework" one that we love, or that you lost it on the way home, or lost it on the way to school.

James

Yeah.

Anne

But, yeah, this is an absolutely normal thing.

James

Yeah, I guess the lies can be to parents or to teachers, can't they?

Anne

Absolutely.

James

Teachers – "I did it, but…" parents – "I didn't get it" or "I've already done it".

Anne

Yeah.

James

Yeah.

Anne

That's it.

James

OK. And let's put our shoes on the feet of a child, remember back – why would you lie? Because you don't want to do it, because you haven't done it.

Anne

Because you don't want to do it!

James

Because you couldn't be bothered doing it, ‘cause it was too hard, ‘cause you were scared of it.

Anne

Absolutely, and you know, you had something better to do. So, you know, there's any number of reasons why kids will lie, and really from about the age of five onwards, they're capable of it, and all kids will lie about stuff like this at some time.

James

And there's two types of kids, aren't there? Ones that you can immediately tell when they're lying and ones who you can't.

Anne

[Laughs] You're never quite sure.

James

Yeah.

Anne

That's right, that's right. Some actually perfect the art of it a lot quicker than others.

James

Yeah, OK, so are there particular age groups or genders in which telling fibs about homework, trying to avoid it, is more common?

Anne

Yeah, I don't know about that, I think middle-primary years they're, you know, they get a bit, you know, they try things on a lot more, and maybe certainly in teenage years they do, but I think boys—

James

So it's basically all school kids [laughs].

Anne

I think it's pretty much all, and I think boys and girls, you know, both do it, it just really depends on the child and their particular set of circumstances.

James

Yeah OK, so there's potentially two things for a parent to worry about: A, my child lied to me or lied to the teacher, and B, they're not doing their homework. How should you tackle both of them?

Anne

Well, you know I think that the lying piece is the one where you need to I guess to try to not panic. The main thing is don't panic. Recognise that it's normal. But if it becomes a pattern, if you're picking up that there is lying happening quite often, then I think it is worth looking at a bit further in terms that there's something happening here, that they may be getting something out of it, you know, some reward for the lie, like they might get more attention from you because you get really angry that you find out they lied, OK, so that might be a way of actually bringing you in, even though it's negative attention, it's some kind of attention. Or it's a sign of some issue that the child is trying to deal with, like they're not really coping with the work, or that they're not really getting the support they need from the teacher, or even some sibling issues, sorry, peer issues at school, that they're maybe not getting on so well with their peers at school or perhaps even their siblings at home. So there could be something, some other underlying issue that manifests itself through lying about homework.

James

Which suggests that the next step is to gather more facts – that is, investigate, talk to the child, maybe talk to the teacher?

Anne

Yeah, well look if it is about homework, and as you said, the other aspect is they're not doing their homework, then I think you've got to kind of get practical about it and you know, the easiest thing, particularly with primary school-aged children is, you talk to the teacher, find out what homework is happening and what is being set, so that you've got the information and you're not relying on the child having to tell you, and you set, you need to kind of set a good homework routine at home. So you don't want to make homework a big drama, a big negative thing, and you want it to be as positive an experience as possible, and the teacher may be able to give you some help with that about how to do that, but the teacher may also be able to give you some hints on what might be worrying your child. So yes, sometimes you just need to dig below the surface a little bit and not just to see it as bad behaviour. Sometimes it is just that, the kid trying it on, testing the boundaries, seeing what they can get away with, OK? And that's normal and actually quite a positive, in a sense, that they are, you know, in a sense, they're clever enough to try it on.

James

Right.

Anne

But then you, as a parent—

James

What have you got to do? When you find that they are trying to lie.\

Anne

Well, then you respond by explaining to them how that's not a constructive way to go about life.

James

Yep.

Anne

That A, you know, homework is important for various reasons. You explain the importance of that homework and why it needs to be done, but also how lying actually damages relationships and doesn't really get you far in life. And it is a learning opportunity, it's that moment where the parent can actually convey some important values, teach the child about what's important – and the best way to do that is in a positive environment, as I said before, don't make it a big negative drama because the child won't be listening, they'll be pulling down the shutters and blocking it out. But if you take the time to talk with them about it, then most kids will go through that lying stage, if you like, and that they'll come through it. If they're not, and if it's persistent, then that is a sign of something else usually, and it's worth looking into it as I said, or indeed getting some professional advice – going to see a counsellor as a family to try and understand what might be happening in the family dynamics, or why the child might be needing to behave in this way that's ultimately a negative, for them, in order to kind of get through their day.

James

And, well you were saying this before really, that there's in a way two possible explanations. One, it's something about the homework, you know, I'm scared of the homework, it makes me feel, "I feel stupid when I can't do it, I lack confidence in class", or it's nothing at all to do with homework and the homework is merely the, I guess the whipping boy, the example that the child is using to express something else.

Anne

Yeah, that's right, and it could be other issues going on in the family. You know, sometimes as parents, you know, if we're worried about money, work, our marriage, or—

James

I mean, just like normal [laughs].

Anne

Normal, you know, everybody! Or you know, a relative is ill, or whatever it is, our normal adult problems, we can often tell ourselves, "Oh the kids don't know about it, everything's fine, kids are OK, we're managing this". But kids have much better radar than we ever think, and they can often pick up the very small nuances in our behaviour and our demeanour, and it does have an effect. And I don't say that by way of wanting to criticise or blame us as parents, but rather, it's important for us to realise that kids are watching us all the time. They need to. That's part of a kid's job as they're growing up, is to watch their parents, and much as we try and protect them from these adult worries and we want them to just have a carefree childhood, there may be something that your kids are picking up that's worrying them. And it may be, you know, the lying is kind of a, "Hello, I'm here—"

James

"I want some attention!"

Anne

"I want some attention" or "I want you to not be so worried about that thing, here, come and worry about me". OK, so kids are very clever at distracting their parents in that way, but unfortunately when the kids are doing that, it becomes a negative for them. So we need to not get into that cycle of allowing the kids' negative behaviour to be the way that we all sort of start to function as family, it becomes a pattern in the family, we need to break that pattern. Sometimes we need to get some outside help to do that. So I think that it's about distinguishing between what is sort of normal, minor, temporary kind of behaviour that's challenging for us as parents – and, you know, it sort of certainly sandpapers us as parents, as the kids go through these sorts of stages, we need to be on our game a lot better, on top of it – distinguish that between, against sort of something that has some underlying issues that could end up being a bigger problem if they're not addressed early.

James

Yep, and when you think you're at that stage, where you should you go to look for some professional assistance do you think?

Anne

Well I think certainly each school should have a school counsellor —

James

Yes.

Anne

— that you can talk to, and the school counsellor will have a number of places they would refer you to in the local area, but also through your GP, the GP will have some connections. And again, going to places like Relationships Australia or the community health centre or somewhere like that, you'll be able to find family counsellors that can help. And I do stress family counsellors because I think too often we have kind of ‘problematised' the child, we've said the kid's bad or has got a problem and we send them off on their own. I have a real belief that these sorts of things are best dealt with the family as a whole, and that the child's issues can be managed better if the parents are involved.

James

Thanks so much Anne.

Thanks for listening and for more information check out the School A to Z website at www.schoolatoz.com.au

 

 

Anne Hollonds
Anne Hollonds

Anne Hollonds is CEO of The Benevolent Society and the former head of Relationships Australia NSW. Anne and has more than 20 years experience as a psychologist. She is a media commentator on a wide range of social issues including child wellbeing, family and relationship matters. Earlier in her career, Anne worked in mental health, family violence, child protection and out-of-home care, child and family counseling, and in tertiary education. She has served on a number boards and advisory committees including the NSW Child Protection Council.

 

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