I’m sure you want your children to be honest—not to cheat, lie, sneak, cover up or steal. But what’s the best strategy to teach them to be truthful?
Some parents might believe it’s in a child’s nature to lie and it’s the parent’s job to punish dishonesty to prevent it from taking over. Actually parents often set their kids up to lie.
Here’s the mistake they make. They confront their kids accusingly with anger or threats. But if you’re harsh and punitive, they’re afraid to tell you the truth. If you make it safe for them, they will be honest. So be firm on honesty and gentle on your kids.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Let’s say you’ve discovered that your nine-year-old child shoplifted some candy at the grocery store. Let me give you two scenarios.
Mom: Where did you get that candy?
Child: I found it in my pocket.
Mom: Did you steal it from the store?
Child: No, I didn’t!
Mom: I think you did. Your sister just told me she saw you take it. And now you’re lying to me too.
Child: No, she’s lying. I didn’t take it.
Mom: Well, then where did you get it? Now you’re going to get punished twice—once for stealing and once for lying to me.
Mom: I see that you have some candy. But I didn’t buy that for you and your sister just told me that she saw you take it off the shelf when we were in the store.
Child: (Looks down)
Mom: I don’t believe in tattling, and I’ve told your sister that. But it’s also important not to steal. And it’s just as important that we don’t lie to each other. You know we’re a family that really values honesty. You trust me and I trust you.
Child: I didn’t mean to. It just happened.
Mom: I know, Honey. The temptation is so great. But I’m so proud of you for telling me the truth. That’s a hard thing to do and I appreciate it so much. Now, let’s get going back to the store. I’ll stand by your side while you return the candy.
In this first scenario the parent is pushing her child up against the wall—almost defying her to tell the truth. And in such a case, most people come out fighting, or denying, or lying—because it’s just too humiliating to be honest. In the second scenario, the parent takes the issue right off the table by already acknowledging that she knows the child took the candy. Now she can focus on the importance of honesty, talk about it as a family value, show that she understands—and still teach the lesson of honesty.
Next: Three tips to help your kids learn honesty