Even though lying isn’t an ideal behavior in children, it’s a common part of their development. In fact, research has shown that, on average, four-year-olds tell a lie every two hours. No matter their age group, children tell lies for many reasons, ranging from a vivid imagination, to not wanting to disappoint a parent, to exploring their own independence.
Despite this, there are ways to help teach your child about honesty.
Children of all ages naturally look to their parents and caregivers for guidance on how to behave and deal with different situations. Modeling honesty yourself is a powerful way to impart the lesson to your child. For example, let your child see you taking ownership of your mistakes and apologizing instead of inventing an excuse.
Talk about lying and telling the truth
When young children are just learning about honesty and lies, it can seem confusing. For example, insisting that their stuffed rabbit is a lion, and blaming a broken toy on a sibling are two very different types of lies. Help your child understand the different consequences of lies. In addition, help them to understand that some things can hurt people’s feelings even if they’re true or your child believes they’re true. Tact is a skill that takes practice, so help your child understand how honesty and compassion are linked.
Encourage open discussion of feelings
Being able to be honest about your emotions is an important life skill for your child to learn. Encourage your child to talk to you about how they feel and listen without judgement. Additionally, while you may want to hide your own sadness or worry from your child, being honest about your feelings will help them see that it’s okay to share and discuss all types of emotions. When your child sees that you are open to anything they have to share, they may also be more likely to turn to you with difficult topics as they get older.
Make a positive association with honesty
If your child is honest about something, thank them – especially if it was a difficult situation for them, such as admitting that they broke something or hit their sibling. You don’t need to ignore the consequences of their actions, but acknowledging their honesty will show them that it’s good to tell the truth.
Remove opportunities for lying
If you’ve caught your child doing something they shouldn’t, such as making a mess, it can be tempting to ask, “Did you do this?” However, this might have the opposite effect. It can give your child an opportunity to try lying to try getting out of trouble. Instead of forcing a confession, say something like, “I see you’ve knocked the clean laundry over. I spent a long time folding it and now it has to be done again.” Then, depending on their age, they can help you re-fold the laundry, or bring you the clothing that they’ve knocked over.
Children of all ages tell lies for different reasons. However, by fostering an atmosphere of honesty and focusing on positive discussions of emotions, you can help teach your child about honesty.