Q&A: Encouraging Honesty in Children

Encouraging Honesty in Children: How To

I use Mondays to clear out my mailbox. Today, I’m tackling the topic of encouraging honesty in children.

Question: What can I do to teach my child to tell the truth?

Dear Jennifer,

How do you handle it when a toddler admits to telling a lie?

I want to teach my 2.5 year old son that lying is bad, which in our family usually means discipline. But I don’t want my discipline for the lie to make him afraid to admit to lies in the future. What should I do?

How to Encourage Honesty in your Children

Answer: Drive home these four important lessons.

We consider lying a very serious offense in our family, too. That is how our parents raised us. And it’s how we’ve tried to raise our children, as well.

When I was growing up, my mom and dad impressed on me the importance of telling the truth by making sure I understood the following principles.

  1. Lies get you in trouble.

    I knew that if my parents ever discovered on their own that I had lied to them, I’d be in hotter water than if I came and confessed the lie to them myself. Lying was a spankable offense in our household, for sure. But I got fewer licks when I admitted the lie than when I persisted in it and was later proven guilty.

  2. Lies tend to snowball.

    It is almost impossible to tell a single lie. When you tell one lie, it often becomes necessary to tell another to cover up the first. And so on. And so on. It’s easy to get confused. Before long, you’ll have a hard time remembering what’s true and what’s false. Who’d want to live that way?

  3. Lies destroy trust.

    Once you’re caught telling a lie, it causes people to question everything else you say. So do yourself (and your reputation) an enormous favor: Make a point of always telling the truth.

  4. Lies never work with God.

    Even though I might get away with lying to my parents, I can’t fool God. My parents did a great job of impressing that fact upon my guilty conscience. Moreover, they told me God would make certain my lies would not go unpunished. One of His ten commandments forbids bearing false witness, so we can be sure God takes lying seriously, too.

Those guidelines were enough to keep me scrupulously honest, both as a child and as an adult. The few times I remember telling a lie as a child, it weighed so heavily on my heart that I couldn’t rest until I’d made things right.

The last time I intentionally told a lie as an adult was over twenty years ago. Our new puppy bit a man who’d come to steam clean our carpets, and he asked whether the dog was current on all her shots. Fearing a potential lawsuit, I told him yes — even though I knew she had not yet been vaccinated against rabies, which was obviously the one he was concerned about.

No sooner had the lie escaped my lips than I felt an almost unbearable sense of guilt over it. So much so that, before the man left our house, I confessed my dishonesty and offered to have the dog examined if it would give him peace of mind. The money it cost to board the dog for two weeks’ observation was a small price to pay for a clear conscience. And I’ve been very careful never to knowingly lapse again!

Keep the discussions going

As with so many other aspects of parenting, encouraging honesty in children (and detecting falsehoods when they exist) will be much easier if you keep the lines of communication open and well-used. To that end, we’ve created a whole series of dinnertime discussion prompts. To download free printable versions, follow this link: Conversation Starters for Families. Or, if you’d prefer an all-in-one bound volume, get a copy of my new book, Table Talk.

Table Talk Book

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