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It’s No Lie: Honesty Is the Best Policy for Kids

August 23rd, 2018     By Kris Hallstrom, Manager of the Boys Town National Hotline

Child Development, Early Childhood, Understanding Behavior

Fibbing. Bending the truth. Telling stories. Making up stuff.

No matter what you call it, lying is not something you want your child to do.

But kids of all ages often have difficulty telling the truth, especially if they're trying to avoid conflict, punishment or embarrassment. This also may involve not telling the whole story in order to stay out of trouble. In children's minds, it is easier to tell a lie than to admit responsibility for their behavior.

Dealing with lies from your child can be very frustrating. It can hurt your relationship because you start feeling like you can't believe or trust what your son or daughter tells you.  

Parents often want to confront their children right away when suspect they are lying. Usually, though, it's better to think things through before you address your suspicions.

When it's time to act, the first thing to remember is to keep your questioning neutral and open-ended. Ask questions to get information about the situation where your child may have lied and let your child do most of the talking. Don't make accusations or interrogate your child; if you back children into a corner, they may resort to more lies in order to avoid punishment. Rather than trying to trap your child in a lie, set him or her up for the success of telling the truth.  

Sometimes children's lying includes blaming someone else for their mistake or misbehavior. Next time you question your child about something he or she did, and you get an answer that it was someone else's fault, work on helping your child reflect on what he or she may have done wrong or how to respond differently in the future. This teaching approach is more positive than a punishing approach, and opens the door for teaching helpful social skills and practicing them with your child. One such skill is "Telling the Truth"; here are the steps:

  1. Look at the person.
  2. Say exactly what happened if you're asked to provide information.
  3. Answer any other questions. These can involve what you did or did not do, or what someone else did or did not do.
  4. Don't leave out important facts.
  5. Admit to mistakes or errors if you made them.

In teaching this skill, it's important to help your child understand that being honest and telling the truth is a way to gain the trust of other people and to let them know they can believe what your child says.

Another significant thing you can do to help your child learn that lying is wrong is to be a good role model. Apologize when you make a mistake and don't be afraid to admit you have faults. This helps your child understand that it's okay to make mistakes and that it's often easier to just "own up" than to lie or make excuses.

While your child should always earn a consequence for lying, it's more effective if the consequence is connected to his or her lying. Having your child make amends or apologize for lying will have a greater impact on his or her future behavior than just throwing out a random punishment. And if your child eventually tells the truth, praise him or her for being honest; it's even okay to reduce the consequence you gave as a reward for "coming clean."

The truth of the matter is that kids will lie. But lying doesn't have to become a bad habit or a big problem with your kids if you address it consistently, teach the skill of "Being Honest" and reinforce the message that being trustworthy is much better than being known as a liar.

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