How Can I Teach My Kids Not to Lie?
It’s my passion to promote healthy parenting and strong families. If you want to create space to be proactive in your parenting it would be my pleasure to walk beside you in your journey.
Teaching children not to tell lies starts at an early age. Unfortunately people seemed to be programmed with ability to tell a “fib” or a “white lie”. As parents we know to build character, honesty, and trust in relationships truth telling is in an important life skill.
When I was a 7year old girl, I stole a pack of gum from a store. I got home and was chewing my gum when my older sister caught me red handed! I told her I got the gum from my mom. (I was not a very smart liar) When my mom found out I was brought back to the store to pay for the gum and apologize to the store manager. This was a natural consequence and a huge life lesson about not stealing and truth telling. I’m sure it was awkward for my mom to bring me back to the store but she saw it as a “teachable” moment. Sometimes as parents we really have to go out of our comfort zone to reinforce the message and values of truth to our kids.
Why do kids lie?
Try putting yourself in your child’s shoes. Imagine what is like being their age. What reward or benefit or motivation do they have for telling a lie?
Is it because they are ashamed?
Is it because they don’t want to get in trouble?
Is it because they want to get something their way?
It is because they want to please you?
- Are you a role model of truth telling?
Have you been known to stretch the truth? Maybe you feel you are protecting your child or you’re not sure how to handle a certain sensitive situation. Are you a keeper of secrets and have had to tell lies to keep the secret? Sometimes telling the truth makes us feel uncomfortable. Try telling it in an age appropriate way and be honest that it is tough for you to talk about with your child. Opening up the door to being honest with your child will lead to more truth telling conversations.
- Be PROACTIVE rather than REACTIVE
Does you child understand the difference between what is true and a lie?
Have a conversation with your child about what truth is and what a lie is.
If you have a young child, examples might be:
My nose is green. That is a lie. My nose is skin tone. That is the truth.
Be creative and think up some funny situation and have them make some up. This helps your child understand the concrete concept of what is true and what is a lie.
Tell them the story “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” where the boy lies in the story and in the end no one believes Peter anymore even when he tells the truth. Make up your own story or draw a picture about it. For an older child you may want them to draw a comic or role play a situation one demonstrating a true situation and one demonstrating a lie. Play the game “two truths and a lie”. In this game each person tells two true things about themselves and one lie. The other person has to guess what is a lie.
When watching TV or movies help your child identify when the characters are lying and not telling the truth. Point it out and talk about it. What was the benefit for the character in lying? What was the outcome?
- When faced with a parenting moment where you believe your child to be lying give them an opportunity to tell the truth. Ask them: Do you want to change your story? Is that how it happened? Reassure them that they are not going to have a consequence but that if they are lying it breaches the trust between you. Be careful not to make it into a power struggle between who is right and who is wrong. This tends to escalate emotions and creates a hostile environment rather than creating a teaching environment. Also talk about what they could have done differently if they could “replay” the situation and go back in time.
At the end of the day, your goal is really to teach your child how to tell the truth and be honest. Sometimes, this takes a leap of faith for you and your child. As a parent, you want to set a climate and environment where no matter how difficult the truth might be you want to hear it and that this is more important the trouble they might be in, the misbehaviour, or the crime. After you find out the truth, you and your child can decide what the learning and consequence of the situation may be.
Kristin Vandermolen, MSW, RSW
Therapist – Conflict, Abuse, Learning Disabilities, Infertility, Anger,
Loss, Depression, and Anxiety