Tips to Help Kids Tell the Truth

When parents are asked to name values that they want to instill in their kids, honesty is usually high on the list. If your goal is to build honesty and discourage lying in your children, what’s the best way to do it? If you do catch your child in a lie, what should you do then? The answer depends a great deal on the age of your child, the type of lie being told and the motives behind it.

Some reasons why kids lie

The first step in dealing with lying—or any other troublesome behavior—is to know what is normal for the age of your child. Rather than indicating serious flaws of character, lying can come from underlying fear. Bright, lovable, normal kids lie—first as a way of avoiding punishment, but eventually just to be liked and accepted by others and/or to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

Young children don’t understand

When asked if lying is wrong, over 90% of 5 year-olds say “Yes, because lies get you in trouble.” It is understood only as a smart strategy to avoid being punished. It’s not until the age of 11 or 12 that the majority of kids understand how lying hurts people, damages trust in relationships, and makes you feel guilty and bad about yourself.

Don’t press for confessions

It’s best not to act like a private investigator to catch kids in a lie. Take a deep breath and wait until you can respond calmly. Blowing up at your child can backfire. Usually parents know that their child has done something wrong and then have lied about it. Tell them what you know. For example, your child takes a toy away from the baby and then denies it; or your daughter eats cookies before dinner when you told her not to; or your son breaks the rules by playing video games before finishing homework.

Ask what rule has been broken

Decide on a reasonable consequence—meaning one that “fits the crime.” For the examples above, you could take the “stolen” toy away from your child for the day; tell your daughter that she will not be able to have dessert after dinner since she ate the cookies; tell your son he cannot play video games for the rest of the day, even after finishing homework.

Ask why they’ve lied

Really listen and have some empathy. It’s difficult to obey all the rules when you are little! The most common responses will either be because they didn’t want to get in trouble or didn’t want to make you, a teacher or friend mad. Perhaps they are perfectionistic and it’s difficult to make mistakes. Be curious about the motive for the lie, and help kids see how lying doesn’t really make things better.

Discuss the different kinds of lies

Since small children are very literal, also make sure to explain that sometimes we keep feelings to ourselves (white lies) in order to protect others. As an example, it’s best not to run up to people and tell them that they have a really big nose. Think about how confusing this concept must be to young children trying to learn about telling the truth. It takes many years to figure out the complexities.

Talk about the importance of honesty

Rather than emphasizing how bad lies are or using a fear-based approach, it helps to teach kids how and why honesty is so important. Starting when your child is very young, use songs and educational activities to help build emotional intelligence and develop character. A free song at the link below, “H-O-N-E-S-T-Y,” encourages telling the truth because of it’s many benefits.

Praise truth telling

Research has also shown that the story about George Washington and the cherry tree is helpful. In this legendary tale, young George uses his new hatchet to cut down everything in sight—including his father’s cherry tree. When his angry father confronts him, George confesses and his father tells him how proud he is. His dad explains how hearing George tell the truth is worth more than a thousand cherry trees. In fact, just telling your child that you will be really proud or happy if they tell you the truth helps kids do so.

Using consequences

Some parents punish a child’s behavior (the one he just lied about) but don’t punish the lying. Why shouldn’t the child try to lie again the next time? A more effective approach is to give a consequence not only for their bad behavior but also for lying about it. Reverse the incentives to make honesty bring some rewards. When you hear the truth, say how proud you are. Then explain what the consequence will be if the troublesome behavior is repeated in the future.

Be a good role-model

As your child gets older, share lessons from your own life. Think about times when you told the truth even when it was difficult, and you had to accept the consequences of your mistake. Be the kind of adult that you want your child to grow up to be. Tell them the truth. A little honesty and humility can go a long long way.

This entry was posted in Emotional Intelligence, family, Feelings, Happy Kids, kids songs, Lying, Music, Parenting, Telling the truth. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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