How to Encourage Honesty with Your Children

As parents, one of our primary goals is to raise honest, trustworthy individuals who value integrity. Honesty is a crucial virtue that forms the foundation of healthy relationships, personal growth, and moral development. Encouraging honesty in children is a delicate process that requires a thoughtful approach and consistent effort. In this blog, we will explore effective strategies for parents to foster a home environment where honesty and openness thrive, enabling their children to embrace truthfulness as a core value.

Lead by Example

Children learn by observing their parents’ behavior. As role models, we must demonstrate honesty in our daily lives. Be truthful in your words and actions, and avoid exaggerations or white lies. By modeling honesty, you create an environment where your children feel safe and encouraged to follow suit.

The experts at Ask Dr. Sears explain it as follows: “One of the best ways to teach honesty to kids is by creating a truthful home. Just as you sense when your child is lying, children will often read their parents’ untruths. If your child sees your life littered with little white lies, he learns that this is an acceptable way to avoid consequences.”

Instead of giving a white lie to your child or in front of them, find a way to reach the same result in a truthful manner. For example, if your child wants more cookies, don’t lie and say they’re “all gone”. Your child will likely see right through that and learn that lying is ok. Instead, be honest; say, “Sorry, no more cookies right now. We can have more tomorrow.” Your child may cry or throw a fit, but setting boundaries is crucial to their future success (and maintaining your sanity as well).

Always Search for a Way to Tell the Truth

The Parent Cue suggests, “As your kids get older, explain the dilemma you find yourself in when you are tempted to tell a ‘white lie’. For example, you might say, ‘I really want to tell her I liked the broccoli salad, but I didn’t. So I found the things I did like and told her about that instead. I said, ‘I so appreciate all the time and effort you put into making the meal. Thank you!’ It teaches your kids to search for a way to tell the truth when we all have trouble finding it. And it teaches them to value honesty in every situation.”

Encourage Transparency

Create a home environment that values transparency. Teach your children the importance of sharing their feelings, thoughts, and experiences openly. Encourage them to express their opinions, even if they differ from your own. Promote dialogue, actively listen to their concerns, and respond in a non-reactive, non-judgmental, and empathetic manner. It can be difficult to do this, but it’s worth it in the long run. This fosters a sense of security and allows for open discussions, ultimately nurturing honesty.

Discourage Dishonesty Even More Than the Crime

Give your kids grace; they’re going to make mistakes. Just plan on it. But be prepared with how you want to lead the discussion. Your job is to guide your child through life and help them learn how to face adversity, even when it’s self-created.

The Parent Cue advises, “We all make mistakes. But we don’t have to lie about them. If your child does something wrong, consequences are in order. But if they lie about what they did, make the consequences greater. If all you do is punish the act, you might be giving them unspoken incentive to lie about the act.”

Start the conversation early; if your toddler sheepishly shows you some crayon drawings on the wall, try not to freak out. Take a deep breath and say something like, “Thank you for telling me the truth. We don’t draw on the walls though. Let’s clean this up together. After that, we can color on paper instead.”

On the other, more likely-to-happen hand, what do you do if your toddler lies about their crayon mural? Let’s explore that situation below.

Get Mentally Prepared: Know What to Do When Your Child Lies

First and foremost, when – not if – your child lies, try your best to keep calm and avoid overreacting. It’s going to happen; it’s a natural part of human cognitive development to explore possibilities, including telling lies. However, never ever call a child a liar at any age, or you risk the child clinging to that as their identity.

Dr. Sears shares the following advice and insights: “Avoid judgments like ‘You’re a liar!’ or ‘Why can’t you ever tell the truth?’ Children often use parental labels to define themselves. To them, a bad label is better than no label at all. At least ‘the liar’ has an identity. A label can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Encouraging honesty with kids works better when you use phrases like, ‘This isn’t like you; you’re usually honest with me.’ Don’t ask, ‘Are you lying?’ but rather, ‘Is that really the truth?’”

Of course, it gets a little more complicated when more than one child is involved. Be sure to approach your child in a way that’s developmentally appropriate for their age and abilities. The following is a guide for teaching kids about honesty, brought to you by Parents magazine.

When Toddlers and Preschoolers Lie

In the case of the toddler and the crayon drawings, there’s no need to ask your child if they did it; you know they did. Don’t ask a question that will most likely prompt a lie, especially from a child who is too young to truly understand the complexities surrounding the situation. Instead, calmly remind your child that drawing is for paper only. Clean the walls together and give praise to them when they follow your directions. (And be sure to store art supplies out of reach!)

Keep in mind, when young children lie, it’s often unintentional, and certainly not malicious. “Preschoolers are too young to understand exactly what a lie is,” says clinical psychologist Richard Gallagher, Ph.D., director of the Parenting Institute at the New York University Child Study Center. “They’re not purposely distorting the truth. They love to exaggerate and make up tall tales, but these stories are expressions of their rich imagination, not lies. Developmentally, they aren’t mature enough to realize that something isn’t true just because they want it to be.”

Additionally, 3- and 4-year-olds have a difficult time distinguishing between wishful thinking and reality. That’s why your kiddo might tell you that their teddy bear spilled their juice, not them. Cute, right? Depends on the type of juice and color of your carpet, maybe. But hey, props for ingenuity!

What to do: Stay calm. Your vibe is contagious; make it a good one. Getting angry or upset will only put your child on the defense and further ensure that they’ll continue lying to avoid blame. So instead, focus on next-steps. Calmly state, “I see that the juice spilled. Let’s get a towel and clean it up together.”

If your child is spinning a wild tale, challenge them in a playful way, suggests behavioral scientist Wendy Gamble, Ph.D., associate professor of family studies and human development at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. You might ask, “Is this a real or a pretend story?”

At this point, your child will most likely admit they’ve made it up and the two of you can laugh about it together. Try reading Hippo Owns Up, by Sue Graves, which teaches kids to admit to their mistakes by being honest. For more books that help encourage honesty to kids, check out this list from Read Brightly.

When 5- to 7-Year-Olds Lie

Pre-Kindergarten students and school-aged kids may lie to parents and teachers to avoid punishment or responsibility. To their peers, they may lie to earn street cred. Either way, the first step for caregivers is to determine a child’s motivation for lying.

What to do: In most cases, the conversation can be centered around the fact that you prefer they tell you the truth, even if it’s unpleasant. Parents magazine gives the following example: “If your kid comes home with a toy you’ve never seen and you know they swiped it during a playdate, don’t force them to confess. Instead, make a neutral comment like, ‘I see that you’ve brought home Billy’s mitt,’ and talk about how it’s not nice to take things without permission. Then, focus on a solution: They can call Billy, apologize, and arrange to return it.”

Oftentimes, a disapproving look plus a reminder that you expect them to tell the truth is all your child needs to get the message across. (Just remember, encouraging honesty is a marathon, not a sprint! Plan on giving frequent guidance and reminders – it’s a process!)

Encourage a growth mindset in your children, emphasizing that mistakes are learning opportunities. When they make a mistake or are dishonest, help them understand the importance of taking responsibility, making amends, and learning from their actions. This approach promotes self-reflection and encourages them to strive for honesty and personal growth.

When 8-Year-Olds (and Older Kids) Lie

Remember, never label your child as a liar. This is especially true for older kids, as their self-image and identity are a huge part of their self-worth. At this age, a child’s lies are more deliberate. They may lie by omission or tell false truths, but either way, it’s important to make it clear when you know they’re not being truthful.

What to do: Parents magazine recommends the following dialogue: “‘That doesn’t sound like the truth to me. Want to think for a minute and start over?’ And skip the lectures. They’ll be more willing to come clean if you use a calm voice—no sarcasm necessary. When they admit the truth, acknowledge it and move on.”

And if you overhear your child talking to their friends about something that never happened or never will, don’t embarrass them in front of their peers. Wait until you have a moment alone together. Explain that friends will like them for who they are—they don’t have to lie to impress them. And if not, maybe they should look for better friends. It’s a tough pill to swallow but such an important lesson.

Help your children understand the consequences of their actions and brainstorm ways to make amends. Encourage them to repair the trust they may have damaged through their dishonesty. This approach promotes a sense of accountability and helps children learn from their mistakes.

Above all, create a nurturing environment at home. If a child, whether they’re 6 or 16 years old, knows they can talk to you about anything, anytime, they’re far less likely to lie.

Schedule a Tour at Kiddi Kollege

Encouraging honesty in kids requires immense patience, time, and continuing education for both the child and the parent. It is crucial to remain consistent in your efforts and reinforce the importance of honesty repeatedly. Remember that your children will still make mistakes, but with your guidance and support, they will learn and grow to become more honest individuals.

Here at Kiddi Kollege, our experienced and friendly staff are well-equipped to guide your kiddo through all of childhood’s ups and downs, including learning the value of honesty. Our curriculum and child care programs in Johnson County, Kansas go far beyond traditional day care methods. We are a school who is committed to guiding and inspiring children by making educational environments fun and enriching each and every day. Schedule a tour to learn more.