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Older Kids More Apt to See Admitting Mistakes to Parents As Right Thing to Do

Older Kids More Apt to See Admitting Mistakes to Parents As Right Thing to Do

Even if they believe they could be punished, older kids are more likely than younger children to view confessing to a misdeed as the right thing to do, according to University of Michigan researchers.

And, kids of all ages who anticipate that a parent would feel happy about a child’s confession — even if they might be punished — were found to be more likely to come forward rather than conceal transgressions.

The goal of the study was to investigate the emotions that children associate with lying and confessing.

The study also tested whether these emotions were connected to children’s tendencies to confess or cover up misdeeds in real world situations, said Craig Smith, Ph.D., a research investigator at the Center for Human Growth and Development.

Smith and colleague Michael Rizzo, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland asked a small group of four to nine year-olds about a series of hypothetical situations in which children committed misdeeds and then either lied or confessed. How did they think they would feel?

The study found that four and five year-olds were more likely to connect positive emotions to the act of lying, and negative emotions to confessing, Smith said.

The younger children often focused on the gains associated with lying. The seven to nine year-olds more often associated guilt with lying and positive emotions with confessing. They were more apt to talk about the wrongness of lying and the rightness of confession.

This doesn’t mean that little kids don’t experience guilt or understand that lying is wrong. One sure way to guarantee a child won’t confess is to “bite the kid’s head off immediately,” Smith said.

“It goes along with the larger picture of being approachable as a parent,” he said.

So, what’s a parent to do when a child comes forth with a transgression?

“Convey that you’re going to listen without getting angry right away,” Smith said. “As a parent, you might not be happy with what your child did, but if you want to keep an open line of communication with your child you can try to show them that you’re happy that your child has told you about it.”

This open communication becomes even more critical when the child is a teenager and must grapple with adult issues, such as whether to confide in a parent or conceal issues like calling for a ride home when alcohol is involved, or substance abuse, Smith said.

Source: University of Michigan/EurekAlert

Older Kids More Apt to See Admitting Mistakes to Parents As Right Thing to Do

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Older Kids More Apt to See Admitting Mistakes to Parents As Right Thing to Do. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 10 Jan 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.