DON’T LIE TO ME! (Why do students lie?)

Teacher: “Did you do this?”
Student: “No!”
Teacher: “Then who else did? You were the only one around here!”
Student: “I don’t know!”
Teacher: “You know it is better to tell the truth than to lie. And you know I am trying to help you and that I care about you. Now did you do it?”
Student: “No!”
Teacher: “If I find out later it was you and you didn’t tell me you will be in much more trouble. So it is better to tell me now.
Student: (silence)
Teacher: “Now did you do it?”
Student: “I said NO now leave me alone!”
Teacher: “Don’t lie to me.”
Student: “I’m not lying!”
Teacher:  “Oh, I give up! I don’t know what to do.”

Does this dialogue sound familiar? Have you ever been in a similar situation where you were pretty sure a student did something, but were not able to prove it because you couldn’t get the student to confess?
Why don’t kids confess? Why do they lie to us?
The answer is really pretty simple.
Kids lie because they probably know that getting caught means they are in big trouble. And they know that if they don’t get caught nothing will happen. When it is framed this way – big trouble or nothing will happen – it is understandable why a student would lie.
So, what can we do if we have pretty good reason to assume a student did something, but are not are not 100% sure?
Well, what would we do if the student said: “Alright, I did it! It was me.”
We would probably have a discussion about why that behavior isn’t okay and maybe even go into how the student was going to fix or repair their mistake.
Could we still have this discussion if the student did not admit his or her mistake?
We believe we could.
It might sound something like this:

Teacher: “I want to talk to you about what I just saw.”
Student: “What I didn’t do anything!”
Teacher: “I didn’t say you did. I want to ask you if you think it is okay that someone does this?”
Student: “I don’t know. Why are you asking me? I didn’t do it.”
Teacher: “I didn’t say you did. I want to know however, if you think this is okay.”
Student: “No it is not okay, but I didn’t do it.”
Teacher: “Again, I didn’t say you did it. But I heard you say that you understand that it isn’t okay, right?
Student: “Yeah.”
Teacher: “How would someone fix their mistake if the person realized it wasn’t okay?
Student: “I don’t know. Why do I have to figure it out? I didn’t do it.”
Teacher: “Again, I didn’t say you did it. I want to know how someone would fix it.
Student: “ I guess they would…………….”
Teacher: “I think you’re right.”

In this scenario the student identified that it was wrong and what he or she could do to fix it.
If this is as far as the student goes and never does fix her mistake, we believe that you helped her move in the direction of developing her values and morals. Ideally, students will eventually decide to fix their mistake.
We have used this strategy many times with students over the years. More times than not, students will eventually decide to fix their mistake.
There are some student offenses for which we need to figure out who is responsible. However, in most instances we do not need to solve the “case.”
We are teachers, not detectives. Our job is to teach content as well as help kids learn right from wrong and we can do this without solving the crime.

Remember, you don’t need a confession to teach them a lesson.


March 31, 2010. Uncategorized.


  1. Gordon Decker replied:

    You don’t need a confession to teach a lesson – what a great phrase to remember. I’ve certainly been in this situation, and next time, I’ll try this technique. Thanks!

  2. Joshua Fraser replied:

    I really like the idea of not forcing this opportunity to teach a moral lesson, rather have the student realize the moral using this technique when a student is obviously not telling the truth.

  3. Briana Sykora replied:


  4. Jodene Van Dam replied:

    I think the strategies of staying calm, restating the teacher’s neutral position matter-of- factly, and guiding the child to see what he feels about this dilema leads to the next part of how would he deal with the fixing of it. It seems logical that this could be very effective in helping a child work through and grow from this experience. I think this is a great idea to try on my own.

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