Lessons in Honesty


You know that powerless feeling? Like the time when you were 12 years old and your dad thought it would be a good idea to let you drive the dirt bike alone. When he let go, your hand immediately pushed the throttle completely down and in a panic, you can’t figure out how to get it to stop going full speed into your neighbor’s barn. You have the ride of your life thinking it is the END of your life!

Am I alone here?

Well, surely you have had an out of control, powerless situation that left you clueless as to how to handle it.

Maybe having your rainbow-faced 4-year-old look at you and try to convince you that he did not get out the markers isn’t quite  the same, but it sure does leave you feeling helpless. How do I handle this? How do I decide who is telling the truth when both boys look at me and say neither of them poured the bubble jug out on the carpet?

When lying starts to take over your home, it feels as if a sense of control flies out the window.

I have read many different opinions on how to battle lying. I recently read one that said to be aware of  how you phrase your questions – try not to say, “did you make this mess?” but rather, “you made a mess” which should avoid the “need” for lying altogether. The problem with this is, as your child gets older, their teacher, boss or spouse will not cater their questions to your grown child. I want to establish responsible kids that are faced head-on with the decision to be honest or to lie.

1. Watch for lying – even at a young age.

Children learn to lie early. While potty training my 2-year-old, I came into the bathroom to find his pants around his ankles and under him on the ground were 3 little turds. I said, “oh no! Did you poop?” and he responded without a moment’s pause, “that’s not poop – it’s chocolate.” Lies like these are funny in the moment, but even making light of the smallest lies can make the behavior harder to correct in the long run. Lying as a child can lead to lying as a teenager – and let’s face it, lies from teenagers can produce a lot more grief for parents than a lie about poop being chocolate.

2. Name it – “that is a lie” – and explain how it affects trust.

Sometimes, kids don’t understand lying. It can also be hard to define, so use an example of clear dishonesty as a way to identify a lie. For example, if they say they have picked up their toys and you happen upon the mess still on the ground, then that is a good time to explain that this is a lie and is unacceptable. Explain that lying can damage relationships and make it hard for mommy and daddy to trust whether you are telling the truth.

3. Give the option (and words) to help tell the truth. 

You can usually pick up on when your young child is lying. They give you good clues to go off of, like the remainder of the chocolate candy around their faces or the guilty looks (or both!). Take the time to explain to your children that they have a choice to tell the truth or to lie. Give them the right words to tell the truth. I walk my kids through the situation like this: “It would be  better to tell mommy the truth right now. It only gets you in more trouble if you lie. You could say, ‘Mommy, I’m sorry I ate chocolate without asking. Will you forgive me?'” This is helpful if your child has a hard time putting the right words together to tell the truth.

4. Praise the truth.

Right now, my kids are all under 5 years of age. We don’t have major issues – yet 😉 – besides trying to figure out who flushed the bar of soap down the toilet (FYI: a full bar of soap takes 4 days to clear your pipes); so, at this stage, I am training them to tell the truth. Establishing truth in our home is a top priority for our family, so sometimes I will overlook an offense when my boys choose to tell me the truth about the situation; and even if they do still get a consequence, I always tell them I’m proud of them for telling the truth.

5. Be a good example by telling the truth.

Make sure your kids see you being honest. They really do pick up on those small lies, from the things you tell the telemarketer on the phone to the lies you slip your husband about the price of the dress you just bought. Don’t have a standard for your children that you don’t keep yourself.

6. Reaffirm your love.

Just like adults, kids want to be accepted and loved unconditionally. A lot of times, they see being honest as a barrier to your love. Reassure your kids that even when they make bad choices, you still love them and want them to tell you the truth. Your love doesn’t stop even when they do wrong.

Lying is a hard problem to tackle because it goes deep into your child’s heart. You can never make the decision for them to be truthful, but it is important to teach that lying is damaging and wrong. While we can set up boundaries and consequences for lying, children are still human and must learn the value of honesty for themselves.

What are some tips you use for teaching honesty with your children?

Bridget was the first of her six siblings to be born in Kansas City and she has lived here ever since. She met her husband when she was in the eighth grade; they have been married for five years and have two boys (Cooper is 4, Lewis is 2) with another boy on the way. Day-to-day life consists of being woken up face-to-face with someone asking for a cup of milk; picking up hockey gear around the house; trips to the park; laughing at her boys; attempting to catch up on laundry; and hearing lots of screaming and “I love you, momma”'s. Bridget loves to camp, lay on a hammock (often while pretending it's a ship being attacked by sharks), garden, picnic - basically all things outdoors with the exception of chiggers! Writing for a moms blog has been a top bucket list item and she is excited to be a contributor. She also writes at living with levins