Helping Children to Tell the Truth
Honesty is the basis for any relationship because it develops
trust and upon that foundation simple things like communication
and responsibility rest. When a child lies, that trust
is broken and the relationship suffers. Parents often don’t
know how to handle dishonesty especially when they find
common discipline techniques don’t fully address the problem.
A more comprehensive plan is usually necessary since dishonesty
often has several components. Here are some suggestions
for dealing with honesty and lying.
1. Young children often confuse truth and fantasy so some
extra teaching in this area will be helpful. Talk about
reality and truth and how they are different from fantasy,
wishes, possibility, pretend, and make believe. Require
that children use cues to identify anything other than
reality. Here are some ideas: “I think it happened this
way,” “I think this is the answer,” “I’m not sure...” “Maybe...”
(possibility) “I wish this were true,” “I’d like it if...”
(wish) “I’d like to tell you a story...” “I can imagine
what it would be like to...” (fantasy)
2. Use the Bible verse Proverbs 30:32 to teach children
to stop talking in the middle of a speaking mistake. When
you sense a child is beginning to stray from the truth,
stop them. “I want you to stop talking for a minute.” Sometimes
children just get started with one lie and keep going.
When parents try to argue with children about a lie, it
often perpetuates more lies. Sometimes you just have to
say, “Stop talking about that and choose something else
to talk about.”
3. If a child lies impulsively, work on self-discipline.
Sometimes children who are impulsive blurt out things without
thinking. Other times they start talking and don’t know
how to stop. This impulsivity component can lead to dishonesty
because of a lack of self-control. It’s not always malicious
lying, but it’s still not good and shouldn’t be excused
since the problem often gets worse. Even though children
may have poor impulse control, they must learn to tell
the truth. The route, though, may contain more self-discipline
training than some of the other suggestions.
4. Teach children about the benefit of the doubt. The
benefit of the doubt is a gift we freely give to people.
It’s the tendency to believe someone and it comes naturally
with relationships. But once someone is found to be dishonest,
he or she loses the benefit of the doubt, and it then needs
to be earned back by being “caught” doing the right thing.
Once a child has lied, everything becomes suspect. You
may even question something that is found to be true later.
A child may be hurt by this, but that hurt is the natural
consequence of mistrust which in turn comes from lying.
Being believed is a privilege earned when children are
responsible in telling the truth on a regular basis. Tell
your child that you would like to believe him but you can’t
until he earns that privilege back by being honest. The
road back to being trusted is a difficult one, but it is
possible. Teach your children that it’s much easier to
remain trustworthy then to try to earn trust back. If you’re
child has already lost the benefit of the doubt, clearly
define what honesty looks like and then check up on him
often. Your goal is to find your child trustworthy again.
5. Some situations won’t be clear. Children may lie to
avoid punishment. You find yourself in a predicament because
proof seems impossible yet you have a sense that this child
is not telling the truth. When possible, don’t choose that
situation as your battle. It’s too sticky. You will usually
have other clearer opportunities later. Children who have
a problem with lying, demonstrate it often. Choose the
clearer battles and use those situations to discipline
6. Confrontation should result in repentance. This may
seem unrealistic at first but keep it in mind as your goal.
Children who are confronted with the fact that they are
telling a lie should immediately confess and apologize.
A child who is defensive is relying on arguing and justifying
as manipulative techniques in order to avoid taking responsibility.
When a child is caught in a lie have that child confess.
You might ask the question, “What did you do wrong?” and
have the child say, “I lied.” Confession is the first step
toward change but is often quite a challenge.
7. Be proactive in teaching about honesty.
Tell stories from your life or read stories like The
Emperor’s New Clothes, The Boy who Cried Wolf, Pinocchio, and Ananias
and Sapphira from the Bible. There are several good books
at your local library on this subject that are written
for children and are well illustrated to capture their
8. Memorize Bible verses dealing with honesty. The Scriptures
have a way of appealing to a child’s conscience and changing
a child’s heart.
9. Honesty requires courage and humility. Dishonesty always
occurs under pressure. Pray with your child for strength
to do what’s right even under pressure.
10. The book Good
and Angry, Exchanging Frustration for Character in You
and Your Kids has a whole chapter (Chapter
8) on lying. The entire book would be helpful for character
development in your child. Chapter 8 focuses on building
integrity. By putting your focus on the positive instead
of just trying to remove the negative you can see significant
11. Look for underlying issues in a child’s life. Some
children who lie are lazy and just don’t have the character
necessary to work hard. The solution to lying may, in part,
require more work to develop that character. Other children
have a poor view of correction and react defensively whenever
challenged or corrected. Developing a plan for addressing
correction wisely may contribute to honesty as well.
Dishonesty is a character weakness. God wants to grow
your child to be strong on the inside. That strength comes
from his power and grace. Spend time praying and talking
about the Lord with your child. Make that spiritual connection
more clear so that your child can sense the Holy Spirit’s
conviction on an ongoing basis.