Five steps to getting your kids to tell the truth

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I’ve always been afraid of the moment that my pure and innocent young child would knowingly lie to me for the first time. I imagined that I would feel terribly sad to realize that he wasn’t a perfect and divine being, but rather human, just like me.

Surely it would be awhile before I would have to deal with this fall from grace. I wondered what his first lie would be about. Would he lie about getting in trouble at school? Eating unhealthy foods? Not doing his homework?

So it surprised me when I found crayon all over the dining room table, and my three year old responded in broken, staccato English “I not know you’re talking about, mama!”

My sweet young boy. Those big blue eyes. Lying through his tiny teeth.

Luckily, a recent study out of the University of Toronto gives us some helpful hints for how to teach our children of all ages to tell the truth:

1.) Relax. The experts assure us that lying is a normal part of development, and due in part to children’s wild imaginations.

2.) Focus on the positive. Rather than give moral explanations for why lying is bad, focus on the positive benefits of telling the truth. Children in the study lied less after hearing the George Washington cherry tree story than when they heard “Pinnochio” or “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” In all of the studies, kids responded better to hearing the virtues of a protagonist who heroically told the truth about chopping down his father’s favorite cherry tree, rather than stories that focused on why lying is bad.

3.) Help kids develop empathy. According to the experts, we can encourage good moral behavior by focusing on the effects our behavior has on others. Talk with your child about how their lying might affect their family and friends. This advice extends to other behavior, as well. For example, instead of scolding your child for hitting another child, focus on the child who has been hit. Ask if they’re okay and tend to their wounds before talking with your child about their poor decision.

(I’ve tried this to reinforce positive behaviors, as well. If my child is sharing, I ask him to notice how happy he has just made the other child. I’ll get back to you on if this works or not.)

4.) Ask kids to “promise.” For whatever reason, these researchers found that kids were much less likely to lie if they had been asked to say “I promise.” So there ya go.

5.) Model honesty. There it is again: The experts telling us that we need to model the behavior we wish to see in our children. However, in addition to telling the truth ourselves, they also stress we must be honest about what our expectations are. If we tell our children that we will not get mad at their transgression as long as they tell the truth, then we better control our temper when they admit to spilling juice all over the laptop.

Do you have another strategy for helping your kids tell the truth? Leave a comment below!

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