Honesty is something that can be difficult to cultivate in children since they have endless imagination and it’s easier to lie than to tell the truth in order to stay out of trouble. I know my son went through a stage when he was lying all the time! I never knew when he was telling the truth and it made me nervous because one of the virtues I value most in myself and others is honesty. I was so scared I was raising a kid who would end up a pathological liar! It’s very hard to encourage honesty as well as discipline. On one hand you know the child lies to avoid getting in trouble so you don’t want to punish for honesty but on the other hand you can’t let them beat up siblings without consequences just because they tell the truth after.
First of all, make sure you aren’t being too harsh with them. This requires really taking a look at yourself. Don’t feel bad! We’re all trying to do our best and pretty much every parent I know has been too harsh when they should have been more lenient and been too lenient when they should’ve been tougher! That line in the middle is usually a tough one to walk. You just want to make sure your child doesn’t really have a reason to be so scared that they’re lying.
Second, make sure you’re not setting your child up to lie. If you’re angrily asking, “Did you just hit your sister?” when you know they did it can be tempting for them to lie. Instead say, “I saw you hit your sister” and then handle the situation.
Third, practice what you preach and point it out to them. If you receive too much change make sure you give it back. Let your child know what happened and why you did it. Make sure you’re not fibbing and not realizing it. For example, saying “I don’t want to take this call, tell her I’m in the shower” is a great way to show your kids it’s okay to lie to get out of a situation.
Another idea is to role play with pretend situations. Act out situations where it would be tempting to lie and show your kids how to handle the situation instead. One idea would be to have the child pretend they saw a twenty dollar bill fall out of your pocket. Ask what they would do. If they don’t know make sure you tell them.
Give them opportunities to confess when you suspect they are lying. You can say something like, “I feel as if I’m not getting the whole story. Is there a reason you feel you can’t tell the truth.” This gives them a safe way to be truthful.
Catching them being honest will reward them for honesty. When they tell the truth when it would be more difficult to lie make sure you point it out. “Honey, you could’ve told me you didn’t eat that last cookie but you chose to tell me the truth even though you knew you might get in trouble. I am so proud of you!”
Let them know your family values honesty. One of the most powerful things you can say to a child is “In this family we…” In this instance you would say “In this family we always tell the truth. We do not lie.” This lets them be a part of the family by telling the truth.