How To Teach Your Kids Honesty


Pinocchio with a long nose

I had a new problem to resolve when my three year old son suddenly started telling fibs. It’s a strange experience for dad when his little baby boy, always previously honest to a fault, now starts to tell simple lies in an attempt to stay out of trouble.

It causes a parent to critically consider the methods being taught for a child to learn – and ponder different or potentially better alternatives.

The lies are almost funny when they start and you have to learn the art of not laughing as you listen. You’ll ask the same question that has always received an honest reply.

“Did you go pee in your pants?”

Only this time, there is a bold denouncement of such behavior.

“Nope,” he says with a face that tells the real story and a urine-soaked diaper that’s hanging down near his knees.

If your little toddler has reached the age of independence and has started with the occasional lie, the good news is that it’s completely normal behavior. You might even take reassurance in the fact that research indicates lying plays a positive role in normal, healthy development. That’s all fine and good, but it’s still critical that a child learn and understand the importance of always telling the truth.

If you’re considering how to best teach a lesson in honesty, you might want to grab a copy of NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children. This book takes a hard look at why children lie and how to nip it in the bud.

According to the authors of the New York Times best seller, children don’t start telling lies to stay out of trouble. They lie because they want to always make you happy – they’re trying their best to please you.

When you wrap your brain around that, it sheds an entirely different light on the lie and you realize that there might be a far better approach to correcting the behavior.

Instead of administering a punishment, you might simply reinforce how happy it will make you to always hear the truth.

Another great method to teach honesty is to never ask a question in a manner that might encourage a lie. The authors explain that this will curtail lying by as much as 25%.

What really works is to tell the child, “I will not be upset with you if you peeked, and if you tell the truth, I will be really happy.” This is an offer of both immunity and a clear route back to good standing. Talwar explained this latest finding: “Young kids are lying to make you happy—trying to please you.” So telling kids that the truth will make a parent happy challenges the kid’s original thought that hearing good news—not the truth—is what will please the parent.

Instead of staring your daughter down and asking her if she put all her toys in the toilet, tell her that you’re going to ask a question and you want her to know that before she answers, the most important thing is to tell the truth and that no matter what, you will be happy if she tells the truth.

When she offers up a full confession, give a smile and a big hug and simply talk about the importance of not putting toys in the toilet – it breaks the toilet and Barbie doesn’t like poop on her head.

Associate honesty with positive reinforcement you’ll have a kid that understands the value in always telling the truth.

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