The day will come. Your wonderful, loving, sweet-faced child will tell you a lie. As upsetting as that can be to many parents, before you envision your child doomed to a life of crime, take a deep breath and let’s look at the situation.
For many young children, fact and fiction can blur very easily. We value a sense of imagination in our children and encourage pretend play with them taking on the role of puppies, princesses, superheroes, mommies and daddies. Many families encourage belief in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and a variety of other holiday characters. At some point, children begin to move freely back and forth across that line of believing and doubting. The ability to consistently separate fact from fantasy can result in some instances where adults look at a child’s behavior as lying.
Children have difficulty telling the truth at times for other reasons. Fear and avoidance are probably two of the most common. If children are afraid of punishment or of disappointing a parent, they may decide its a better route to create their own version of something that happened. The same can be true if a child is avoiding something they don’t want to do. For example, a child who is feeling unhappy about having to clean their bedroom may tell a parent they have already completed the task.
As adults, we ourselves are less truthful in many cases than we like to admit. Adults call in sick to work when they are perfectly healthy, back into vehicles with their car and leave the scene, or insist they did not know the speed limit for a stretch of road when questioned by a police officer. How many people have told their spouse that a purchase cost less than it actually did?
So, we probably all agree that we want our children to grow up to be honest. How can we encourage honesty? First of all, we need to model truthfulness ourselves. When your child does tell the truth in a difficult situation, acknowledge and appreciate that honesty. Try to respond to problems in a calm and understanding manner. Have appropriate consequences for children when things go wrong and be consistent. Don’t try to trap children in a lie by setting them up for it. If you already know they didn’t do something they were supposed to, don’t ask if they did. Give your child an opportunity to be truthful and give them a way out. If a young child tells you a story that you know can’t possibly be true, you might say, “That story sounds like something that could not really happen. You might be thinking that you are in trouble. Let’s talk about this and see how we can fix things.”
Honesty IS important. Keeping communication open with our children will help them see that everyone makes mistakes and that adults are here to help them when life gets hard. It can be difficult to tell the truth. Let’s be honest.