5 Methods to Help Your Child Always Tell the Truth
Updated: Apr 27
The other day my son got off the bus from summer camp and I noticed his legs were full of pen marks. He looked like a tic-tac-toe board. When I asked how it happened he answered with the typical 8-year old response, “I don’t remember.” Sigh. Later that evening, while he was in the bath, and I was helping him scrub all the pen markings off his legs, I asked him again. He tells me that while he was on the camp bus he was holding a pen and then fell asleep and someone must have taken the pen out of his hand and drew all over him. Oh, okay. He then altered the story and said the pen must have dropped on his legs while he was asleep and made the markings.
I decided to put him (and me) out the excruciating misery that was this tale and make him tell me the truth. I asked if this was a make believe story or a true story (like I really needed to ask), and once I assured him he wouldn’t get in trouble he fessed up and said he was indeed the body pen artist.
As parents we are constantly stressing to our kids the importance of telling the truth in order to build trust with others, and mainly because it’s just the right thing to do. While the theory seems simple, the practice is much more challenging, especially in today’s political climate. I know – all politicians lie but this certainly doesn’t make it right. And now the international debacle with Ryan Lochte and his swimming pals turning a drunken dust up at a gas station into a robbed-at-gun-point confrontation adds an extra layer of fun to our conversations. What were these guys thinking? And don’t think I didn’t use this fiasco as a huge teachable moment. We all should.
Bottom line – all children lie. In the beginning, it’s an experiment to see what they can and cannot get away with. When lying becomes the go-to remedy for not getting into trouble, then it’s time to take step back and change this behavior before it gets out of control.
Lead by example. It’s amazing the things children absorb from the world around them, and the closest world to them are their parents. Every parent is guilty of the occasional slip of the swear word or saying something inappropriate about another person in earshot of their little one. Those are innocent (mainly) and easier to recover. Lying is not. Always tell your kids the truth and always tell the truth in front of them. Of course, if you’re trying to not hurt their feelings when complimenting their art project, just do it with a big smile.
Create a safe space. Children need to feel safe. That’s our job. Whether it’s the mom or the dad, let your child know that no matter what they do – good or bad, they can always come to one of you and fess up. Reitterate this won’t mean no consequences for bad choices but they should feel safe in talking with you, even if they think they’ll get in trouble. The goal is to help them talk through issues so they don’t feel the need to lie. One note of caution, careful what you ask for on this tip because there will come a time you might not want to know what they have to share. Just saying.
Establish consequences. Decide ahead of time the consequences if your child is caught lying. Sometimes if they know they’ll lose their electronics and screen time for a week or more, or extra household chores are in their future if they’re caught, it may convince them it’s not worth it to lie. And if for some reason, even with established consequences firmly in place, they still lie – let them know additional consequences are coming their way that won’t be discussed ahead of time. Yes, fear can be a great motivator.
Determine the reason for the lie. Sometimes kids lie to brag and appear cool, or they just like to make up stories. Other times they lie because they believe they’ll get in trouble for telling the truth. No matter their motivation, the reason needs to be determined. I always ask my son, when I think he’s in the middle of creating a whopper of a fantasy, if he’s telling me a make believe story or a real story. We should use our child’s decision to lie as an opportunity to discuss what’s going on in his or hers head, and we should let them know we’ll always be fact-checking their stories; hopefully encouraging them to just tell the truth. Bonus: if your child is a great storyteller, write down his tales and turn them into a book. You never know.
Tell them about the time you lied when you were their age. Come on, you know you lied as a kid. All kids lie! The more real we can appear to our children the more relatable we are to them. Most kids are scared of their parents. Do you blame them? If you can paint the picture that you were just like them when you were the same age, suddenly you’ll appear so much more awesome – at least for a little while. I have an arsenal of examples to use for my son. Not proud but hey, at least I’m being honest about them – now.
The earlier we teach our children the importance of telling the truth, the faster this practice will be engrained into their every day habits. If not enforced while they’re young, today’s small lie about how pen markings got all over his legs could quickly turn into an indictment for a bigger lie about being held at gunpoint in a foreign country. The truth will set you free – no matter how old or young you are.
Please share some of your truth-telling tips in the comments below!