Some Kids Lie, but they don’t have to grow-up to be liars.

Did you brush your teeth? “Yes.” Did you do your homework? “I don’t have any.” Did you hit your sister? “No.” Lies, lies, lies. How often do you hear your kids lie?

Kids lie. That's a fact. But, how you parent can make the difference between a stage and a life long habit.

Some kids lie more than others. Just like temperament, children seem to have a natural inclination to be more or less honest.

I have three children and only one seems to struggle with honesty. Same parents. Same home. Different wiring.

So how do you instill integrity and honesty in your kids?

Teach your kids these 4 things:

Teach them lying doesn’t pay off

When your kids are little, teach them that lying will get them into twice as much trouble. Many kids lie to stay out of trouble, so if lying will get them into twice as much trouble, the risk outweighs the reward.

If you want to really hammer this home, let your children periodically get off without any consequences if they tell the truth.

I have done this with my children. Especially the one (who shall remain nameless) who needs some extra reinforcing! When my child is forthcoming and says, “Okay, I took it out of her hand.” I reward that honesty with a comment like:

“I appreciate you being honest. I saw that you did it, but I wanted to see what you would say. Since you told the truth you won’t get in trouble this time. If you had lied to me you would have gotten early bedtime tonight.”

This lets my child know that 1) I saw what happened – even though most of the time I didn’t (oops, that’s a lie!) and 2) that there would have been consequence if he had lied and didn’t tell the truth.

This helps kids make the link between cause and effect. When I lie bad things happen. When I tell the truth good things happen.

Reward honesty

Often as parents we are quick to jump on our kids when they lie, but less quick to praise them when they are honest. Partly this is because we expect honesty. But, unfortunately, this doesn’t come naturally for some kids.

When your kids tell the truth in a situation where they could have easily lied, praise them for such honesty. If your child is quick to lie, respond this way:

“Did you put all your clothes away?”
“Thanks for being truthful. Please do it when you get home from school.”

If your child is usually honest, respond this way:

“Did you put all your clothes away?”
“I love how you are always so honest. That is why I can trust you so much. Please do it when you get home from school.”

In both cases, you are reinforcing their honest behavior.

Introduce them to the Truth-O-Meter

In my home and in my child therapy practice, I use the Truth-O-Meter to help kids understand the concept of trust. I tell kids that trust is built on honesty. I draw a thermometer with ten at the top and one at the bottom. Because kids are visual, I color it red, orange and green at the top.

I tell kids that when people trust them they are green (10) and when they lie they can go down to 4 (yellow) or 1 (red). I explain that it is easy to go down, but harder to go back up. I explain that when kids lie, their Truth-O-Meter goes down with that person. So, even if they start telling the truth, it takes a while for them to get back to green.

You can use the concept of the Truth-O-Meter with your kids. You can let them know where they stand on the Truth-O-Meter and encourage them to get into the green.

Often when my little work-in-progress is telling me a lie, I will put my hand up to visually remind him where his Truth-O-Meter is and ask him if he is sure that is his final answer. More often than not, this will encourage him to be more truthful, as he wants to get back to green.

Use natural situations to have real conversations about honesty

I love using real life situations to develop character and integrity. Kids learn quicker and more effectively when we teach in the moment. This can be especially true when building honesty.

A few years ago, my then nine-year-old daughter found a $20 dollar bill crumpled up on the floor of a clothing store. She looked like she won the lottery as she grabbed my arm and showed me what she had found.

My husband quickly told her, “That’s not yours. You shouldn’t keep it.” He then walked her over to the cashier and had her explain where she found it.

My daughter later voiced concern that the cashier was just going to keep it because there was no wallet, just cash.

We used that as an opportunity to talk about how it’s important to do the right thing because it is at the core of who you are and not for any other reason.

If the cashier kept it, that wasn’t for us to worry about. We discussed how it is important for us to do the right thing, even if others around us don’t do it as well.

Yesterday we were having dinner and my younger, work-in-progress said the teacher had accidentally given him a sticker for being “pink” the highest behavioral level when he actually was “blue” – not a bad color, but not a sticker-earning color.

We all looked at him and said, “So what did you do?” He sheepishly said, “I kept it.” He then proceeded to make some excuses like, “Maybe she meant to give stickers to blues as well.”

Before I could even pipe in, my older daughter interjected with her life lesson. She told him people aren’t going to trust him if he isn’t honest. She told him about a story that happened in her band class where a boy accidentally got candy from the teacher but gave it back because he hadn’t earned it.

She said the teacher let him keep it because he was being honest. She told her brother, “You would have felt better about yourself if you were honest and plus she might’ve even let you keep the sticker.”

I love learning moments like those!

I hope some of these ideas have stimulated some hope and excitement on how to raise honest kids! The key is to not take lying personally. When kids lie it is not about you, it is about them.

Lying isn’t indicative of poor parenting, it is an indication that kids need some extra help. Help them improve their moral radar and build trust with those around them. Your job is to teach, not preach. Happy teaching!


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