Part 3: Tips for Fostering Honesty
I started this blog in response to a parent saying to me, “My child is lying, and I don’t know what to do.” By discussing the developmental appropriateness of lying (see part 1), the parents were able to understand their child’s lies (see part 2) while also fostering honesty (this post!).
That said, it can be hard to remain cool-headed when your child lies- especially if it’s the fifth time you’ve caught your child lying about their homework. But it’s important to remember that your child is still developing and can be taught. Here are some helpful tips for encouraging honesty within your home:
Look for a Reason
It may be helpful to find out why your child is lying. Focus on the motive, not the lie. Perhaps your child lied about their math score because they were embarrassed. Maybe they’re feeling overwhelmed but don’t yet know how to ask for help. Help them verbalize their reason and go from there - but be careful not to lead them into a response that isn't their truth.
Respond Thoughtfully to Lying
Encouraging your child to tell the truth is crucial, but it’s important not to label your child as a liar. Being called a liar won't help your child embrace truth-telling. Instead, share what you know about the situation, explain that you expect honesty, and give your child a path forward by finding a way for them to make amends. In some situations, it may help to acknowledge the feelings behind their lie, such as fear, anxiety or embarrassment. Help them see honesty as an act of courage and responsibility: something worth striving for.
Reminding kids that it's important to tell the truth before you ask about a situation increases the chance that they will be honest. Let them know that telling the truth is both important and brave. When your child tells you the truth about the situation, remember to thank them for their honesty. The lesson should be that when we make a mistake, the first step to fixing the situation is to be honest about what happened.
When your kiddo lies, try to stay calm and don't take it personally. Instead, use it as an opportunity to teach them about honesty. Stay calm and tell your kiddo that you’re disappointed that they didn’t take responsibility for their actions. Decide on reasonable but not excessively harsh consequences. Tell them that you love them even though they lied. It's normal for your child to regret bad behavior, but you don't want them to think they lost your love because of it.
Kids watch and model adult behavior. If we want our children to be honest, we need to be good examples of honesty! This is sometimes the toughest tip to follow but is essential to teach kids that telling the truth is important.
Like the parents of my client, you may feel startled, worried or even frustrated when your child starts lying. This blog series (hopefully!) reassured you that lying is normal - AND that kids can be taught to value honesty over lying. It's really easy to tell kids what not to do, but remember that positive reinforcement - like fostering honesty - can be more effective in the long-run for healthy, happy kiddos.
For additional lying resources check out these child-friendly books:
Charley Chatty and the Disappearing Pennies: A story about lying and stealing by Sara Naish and Rosie Jefferies.
Howard B. Wigglebottom and the Monkey on His Back: A Tale About Telling the Truth by Howard Binkow & Susan F. Cornelison.