How to encourage your child to tell the truth

Once children grow old enough to understand the difference between true and not true, it’s good to encourage and support them in telling the truth.

  • If your child is telling you something that is imaginary or make-believe, you can simply go along with it. Pretending and imagining are important to your child’s development. For example, your child might tell you that she’s a super-hero. You could respond by asking her about her super-powers.
  • Help your child avoid getting into situations where he feels he needs to lie. For example, you see your child has spilled some milk. You could say to him, ‘Did you spill the milk?’ He might lie and say no because he thinks he’s about to get into trouble. To avoid this situation, you could just say, ‘I see there’s been an accident with the milk. Let’s clean it up’.
  • Exaggerated stories that involve bragging can be a child’s way of getting admiration or respect from others. If this is happening often, you might want to consider using more praise to boost your child’s self-esteem.
  • Make sure that you have clear rules about what is acceptable behaviour in your home. Children are more likely to behave within acceptable boundaries if clear rules are enforced.
  • When your child owns up to doing something wrong, praise her for being honest. Say things like, ‘I am really glad you told me the truth. I like it when you are honest’. In fact, it’s important that your child knows that you won’t get upset if she owns up to something.
  • If your child is deliberately misleading you, let him know that lying is not acceptable. Explain why it’s not a good thing and that you might not be able to trust him in future. Then use appropriate consequences to deal with the behaviour that led to the lie. For example, if your child drew on the wall, get him to help you clean it up.
  • If your child continues to stick to a deliberate lie, you might want to reinforce the idea that lying is not acceptable by using an appropriate discipline strategy. If you explain to your child the consequence of lying, it can help her get out of the habit.
  • Try to deal separately with the lying and the behaviour that led to it. First, deal with the lying the way you said you would (for example, use time-out). Then have a look at what caused the behaviour behind the lie. If your child lied to get your attention, consider more positive ways you could give her attention. If she lied to get something she wanted – for example, lollies from grandma – consider a rewards system that lets her earn special treats. You might also need to look at changing her environment to help her avoid situations where she feels the need to lie.
  • Try to avoid telling your child that he is a ‘liar’. Labelling him in this way might negatively affect his self-esteem, or lead to even more lying. That is, if your child believes he’s a liar, he might as well as keep lying. It’s more helpful to label and talk about your child’s actions and behaviours.
  • One way to discourage children from obvious lying is to make a joke, or exaggerate the untrue statement. For example, a young child might explain a broken toy by saying, ‘A man came in and broke it’. You could say something silly like, ‘Why didn’t you invite him in for dinner?’ Continue the joke a bit longer until the child ‘confesses’. This way, you uncover the lie and teach a lesson without any need for discipline or conflict.

Written by PH

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