One of the big things for me as a parent is for my children to trust me.
I want them to know that I’ll be true to my word, that they can trust that I’ll be there for them and that, as much as possible, I’ll be honest with them.
Of course there are little white lies, and there are things like Santa that are all part of the magic of childhood. Sometimes I think we do need to bend the truth a bit to protect our children and let them keep their innocence a little.
For the most part though we’re taking the honest road.
And I’m hoping it will lead to my children being honest too.
I know there will be lies along the way of course, because with all the will in the world we do all lie now and then, for various reasons. So why do children lie? And what can we do to encourage them to tell the truth?
Why do children lie?
There are a few different reasons why children might lie, and children of different ages might also do it for different reasons.
Most of the time though it boils down to either wanting to avoid getting into trouble or having to do something they don’t want to do, or to make themselves look better and to impress other people.
Even young children will lie and say they weren’t the ones to spill the milk, or paint the dog, or eat the chocolate if they think they’ll get in trouble for doing it.
And as children get older you might find that they start exaggerating a bit, or making things up completely, to impress their friends at school.
One thing that’s worth bearing in mind is that lying is a completely natural part of a child’s development. It shows that they have developed a theory of mind, which means that they’re aware that other people have knowledge and experience that is different to their own.
So how can we encourage children to tell the truth?
- Be honest with them
This is so important. Get rid of any ‘do as I say not as I do’ thinking. As parents we really need to model the behaviour we want to see in our children.
So tell them the truth as much as possible. If you make a mistake, let them see you being honest and owning up to it. If you give in to cravings one night and eat their chocolate bar, don’t lie about it the next day. Be honest and apologise, then make it up to them as soon as you can.
- Work out why they’re lying
If you can understand their motivation for lying then you can talk to them about it and find a better way to do things together.
- Praise honesty
When your child does tell you the truth about something, make a point of saying thank you to them for being honest. Make it clear that you would always rather know the truth so that you can help them and move forwards together.
- Use books and stories to talk about lying
Reading stories like ‘the boy who cried wolf’ with your children can be a good way to start a conversation about lying and how it can end up with people never believing anything you tell them. I also watch out for any storylines in the tv programmes they watch that involve things like lying, because I find that’s a great way to start chatting to the children about it.
- Don’t call them a liar
Be really careful with giving your child this label of being ‘a liar’, even if you catch them in a blatant lie. It can so easily become a part of the way they identify with themselves, and they’ll potentially be more likely to keep on lying in the future, if they believe that they are ‘a liar’.
- Don’t get angry
If you sense that they want to tell you something but are nervous then make it clear that you won’t get angry about whatever it is that has happened. The key here is obviously to stay true to your word, and stay calm and not get angry when they tell you!
Last year we went through a phase with Rhys where he was getting wound up by children in his class, and lashing out.
Each day on the way home I would ask him if he had been angry that day, and if he had hit anyone. He would generally hesitate to answer, before I reminded him that I wouldn’t be angry with him about it. And so he would then admit that he had been angry that day.
By getting him to be honest, and staying calm about it myself, we were then able to talk through what had happened to make him so angry and what he could do differently next time instead of lashing out.
I hope that by keeping calm, and letting our children know that they can always talk to us will lead to them being honest with us as they get older. I would always rather know what my children are getting up to, even if it’s not exactly what I would like them to be doing!
Do your children tell many lies? Do you have any more advice for encouraging honesty as children get older?