(Adapted from a piece on fulltimenanny.com. Used with permission.)
One of the greatest challenges that both parents and teachers face is helping kids to learn the value and importance of honesty. Children learn to fudge the truth at a shockingly early age, and the habit can be difficult to break if not acknowledged immediately. Here are ten ways to make sure that your little one doesn’t make dishonesty a practice.
- Practice What You Preach – Teaching your children not to lie is likely to be a challenge if they overhear you saying things that they know to be untrue to others. It’s important to practice what you preach, especially when it comes to impressing upon kids the importance of being honest. They can pick up habits at an alarmingly fast rate, so make sure they’re good ones.
- Create an Atmosphere of Acceptance – Kids often lie out of fear that the truth will cause them to be ostracized. Creating a “no-judgment” zone in your house or classroom can help kids to feel safe enough to tell you the truth, even when the truth is something that you don’t want to hear.
- Talk About Outright Lies Versus Those of Omission – Small children may not understand the difference between actively telling a lie and simply opting not to say all that they know. Explain that both options are dishonest, and help them understand why it’s important to be honest in the first place.
- Reward Honesty – When a child tells the truth, it’s important to reward or at least acknowledge that truth. For instance, lessening a punishment because she told the truth can be akin to “time off for good behavior.”
- Avoid Situations That Can Lead to a Lie – Instead of setting a child up to be dishonest by asking if they did something, ask them why they did it. Saying “I know that you spilled your milk, now let’s clean it up,” is much more effective than asking, “Did you spill your milk?” This accusatory tone makes kids defensive, and they may lie reflexively just to avoid getting into trouble.
- Be Careful With “White” Lies – Instead of telling a child that their disgusting cough syrup doesn’t taste that bad, explain that it’s unpleasant but will make them feel better. A child will know the second that they take the first dose of that medicine that it tastes horrible, and may not understand why you would lie about it when they aren’t allowed to lie about things themselves.
- No Name-Calling – Never call a child a “liar” or other derogatory names. This only makes them feel like you don’t trust them to ever tell the truth, and that there’s no interest in doing so if you aren’t going to believe them anyway.
- Leave the Past Where it Belongs – When gently confronting a child about a situation in which they’ve been untruthful, avoid the urge to bring up past incidences of dishonesty. They’ll only feel as if their past mistakes can never be forgotten, and that you don’t believe that they can ever tell the truth.
- Don’t Make Threats – Don’t threaten a child with vague statements like, “if I found out that you’ve been lying, you’ll be sorry!” In this situation, they’ll only feel as if they must protect their lie in order to avoid a mysterious punishment, rather than feel secure enough to admit to being dishonest and making an apology.
- Be Patient – Kids who have trouble with telling the truth won’t change their stripes overnight, and it will require patience and effort on your part as well as theirs. Understand that there will almost certainly be missteps along the way, but your child is still learning the intricacies of telling the truth.
Kids can be further confused when they’re reprimanded for being “brutally honest,” so it’s a good idea to explain that telling the truth is a delicate balance of not making hurtful observations about others, even if they’re true, while also not saying things that are dishonest. Talking to them about only saying positive things about another person’s appearance or habits can help to prevent embarrassing statements made by kids that are trying to learn the difference.
Many thanks to Hannah Anderson for allowing us to repost this terrific article from fulltimenanny.com!