I’ve been thinking about truth telling. We want our children to be truth tellers, not liars. We have a part to play in developing honesty in them. About four years ago I wrote an article on Ways to Encourage Honesty. Since then I’ve read more articles on teaching our children to be honest. This article will give you a few more things to consider.
Every parent is going to face the fact that their children
lie. It is one of the sins in our fallen nature. For some children, one or two occasions
of lying and facing the consequences of those lies cures them of the penchant
to lie. But for some of our children, they have a very stubborn streak that
causes them to lie about big and little things. If we cannot see that streak broken
in childhood, they will face very hard consequences later in life for the lies
they tell as adults.
I don’t want you to be shocked when your little angel tells a
lie, straight to your face. I hope you will have some tools ready to use as a
result of reading these articles. Maybe you saw a very effective way your own
parents dealt with your first lies and you are ready to nip this bad behaviour in
Your spouse, your child’s other parent, may well have a key that will help in dealing with lies. Be sure to talk about your response to lying before it occurs and then debrief afterwards to see how well that approach worked. Be willing to adapt.
But not matter how well prepared you are, you need help when it happens to you.
Wow, that sounds like a cliché! But every parent and every child is an individual. There is no one size fits all answer to lying. There is one prayer that the Bible says will always be answered. James 1: 5, “If any of you lack wisdom, you should pray to God, who will give it to you; because God gives generously and graciously to all.” If you ask for wisdom, God will give you the wisdom you need to deal with each child.
If you don’t know what is behind the lie, you will likely treat it incorrectly. Yet, you’re only human. How could you possibly know?
Discover why they lie
There are so many reasons a child may lie. They may have heard someone else tell a lie and get what they wanted. So, they want to try that tactic to get their way. They may have just said the first thing that popped into their head. They may be afraid of punishment. Or they may be afraid of hurting you or facing your emotions. They may be trying to get a sibling in trouble. Or they may not know that what they said is wrong.
Depending on your child’s age, ability to understand, and whether this is the first or umpteenth time they have lied, your response may need to be quite different.
Stay quiet and calm
You cannot go wrong by getting quiet and calm before reacting to the lie. A wise person once told me, “Ask a question.” That question will be different for each occurrence of lying. But it may help you get a window into your child’s mind.
Model truth telling
As in any other bad habit we want to eliminate from our
child’s life, we must be a good model for them to follow. If you say you’re not
feeling well, when your children know you are well; they just saw lying modeled.
If you often say, “I forgot,” when they know you never intended to run that
errand; you have modeled a lie. We need to model speaking tactfully so as not
to hurt feelings, and still tell the truth. Instead of pleading sickness, we
can say, “I’m busy right now, but could we meet up tomorrow?” And instead of forgetting,
we can say, “That is not something I’m good at. Is there something else I can do
One well documented way to encourage truth telling is sharing examples of truth telling as a good character trait you want your children to be known for. George Washington’s, “I cannot tell a lie.” Is an example. But watch for good examples that your own children can observe.
Promise of truth
Another tool that may be helpful is to ask for a promise of truth. This is especially effective when it involves people outside the family. Begin by asking your child to promise to tell you the truth, before asking other questions. But this must be used sparingly or it loses its power to work.
My bottom line is, pray! Pray for God’s wisdom. Pray for His grace to help you respond in the best way possible for your child. Pray for a tender and teachable heart in your child. And if you have a child who deals with this character flaw for many years, don’t give up praying! God has a way to get through even when we cannot. After all, we are stewards of our children, not owners. They are ours for a time, but ultimately God is their Father and loves them and will lead them home.
Other articles about honesty and lying: