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Keeping Your Kids Honest

Telling tall tales is a normal part of childhood development, but that doesn't mean it should go unchecked. How do you keep your kids honest and what should you do when they lie? Start by being honest yourself.
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Mother having discussion with son
Mother having discussion with son

Truthfully my daughter can't hold a lie more than a few hours. She winds up in my room, with a tear-stained face and fessing up. But, that doesn't hold true for all kids (or even all kids in my house).

Telling tall tales is a normal part of childhood development, but that doesn't mean it should go unchecked. How do you keep your kids honest and what should you do when they lie?

Start by being honest yourself.

As adults we tell countless "white lies" throughout the day:

"I love your new shirt."
"I have to cancel my appointment, I'm in bed with a cold."
"Your kids behaved well, the play-date was great, it was no problem!"
"I'm sorry I was late, I got stuck behind a garbage truck."

Your kids know that the play-date was terrible. The friends they hosted whined the whole time and refused to share. They know you were late, because you pushed snooze too many times, there was no trash truck. You didn't have a cold; you just decided to go to Target instead of keeping your appointment. Lastly the shirt you said looks great is so bad that anyone can see through that false stamp of approval. You didn't steal from a store or tell a major lie, but the "harmless" white lies you tell throughout a day do more harm than you may realize. Your kids see you being less than truthful on a recurring basis, and we all know kids do what we do not what we say. You must model honesty for them, white lies need to go. It will be an adjustment and a lot of tongue-biting in the beginning, but you will get there in time. It's so much better for you kids to hear "I'm sorry we're late, I just didn't get out of the house early enough," than to hear you tell a lie.

Assure your children that honesty is the best policy.

If your kids decide to give your anthem a try, make it safe for them. Calmly reaffirm that you are happy they came to you. Put more emphasis on their good behavior (honesty) than the bad (drawing on the walls) and discipline with respect. Don't harp on it either. Once a confession is made and dealt with, move on. Don't bring it up again at a later date.

Enlist the help of George Washington.

Research from Victoria Talwar at McGill University in Montreal, shows that when it comes to fables about lying, parents are better off telling the story of George Washington and the cherry tree than the boy who cried wolf. According to Talwar's studies, kids were slightly more inclined to lie after hearing the wolf story. George Washington, on the other hand, reduced tall-tale tendencies by 75 percent in boys and 50 percent in girls. When George tells his dad he cut down his beloved cherry tree his dad says

"My son, that you should not be afraid to tell the truth is more to me than a thousand trees! Yes - -though they were blossomed with silver and had leaves of the purest gold!''

Kids respond to the empowering idea that truth telling makes their parents happy. A threat of punishment for telling lies can be counterproductive.

Don't set them up.

If you walk into a room where things have gone awry and its clear what happened and by whom, don't ask questions that you don't need to. Yes, there is blue chalk on the walls, but don't ask, "did you draw on the walls?" That opening question leads them to a path of lying aka avoiding parental disappointment. Instead try, "I see you have drawn on the walls. That is not ok and not allowed. I will go get the sponge and you can help clean it up." Simply stating what has clearly happened reminds them that it's not allowed. Offering a solution helps create a resolution. Then, let it go.

Keep calm.

You want your kids to come to you, but it won't work if you freak out when they do. If you can't control your reaction, end the discussion and take some time to cool off and revisit. If you react in a threatening manner they won't come back next time.

Try and find out why they are lying.

Is your child scared of failure, disappointment, or peer judgment? Talk to your kids to determine their motivation behind the lies. Get to the root of the problem and go from there.

Don't label them.

A 5-year-old who tells a lie shouldn't be forever branded a liar. Nor should a teenager. Help them, don't shame them.