You hear a loud crash. You go to where your child has been playing by himself and find a broken vase. You ask, “Did you break the vase?” Your child answers “No. I didn’t break it, it just fell over.”
Now you have a dilemma—do you address the lie, or the broken vase? Renowned parenting expert, John Rosemond, has some helpul tips on teaching honesty in this tricky situation.
In his book Parent Power!, Rosemond points out that “Most lies young children tell are told because adults ask questions when they already know the answers.” Think of all the times you’ve asked your guilty child, “Did you hit your sister?” when you can see her handprint and crying sister. Or “Did you take the cookie?” when the crumbs and chocolate are all over his face. Now if you really aren’t sure, asking them to tell the truth is essential. But if you know they did it, why are you asking? You are simply inviting them to be dishonest.
If you are wondering how your child can stand there and boldly lie to your face, visit our blog “Are you teaching your child to be a better liar?” . For children, self preservation is more important than honesty. Kids will lie easily and often to keep themselves out of trouble. It takes children time (and age) to learn the value of honesty. The way you address honesty throughout their development has a huge impact on whether your child figures it’s a better idea to give dishonesty a try or to stick with the truth.
So how can parents handle this dilemma-- teaching a lesson about responsibility (being careful with other people's things) without muddying the waters with a lesson in honesty (lying about breaking the vase)? John Rosemond recommends that if you know a child committed another misdeed, just state the obvious and move on to addressing it.
Using the vase example: Instead of asking “Did you break it?”, Rosemond recommends skipping straight to the other issue at hand by stating “I know you broke my vase. You’ll need to help me clean it up.” That keeps the focus on the misdeed and helps kids avoid the temptation to lie.
Personally, I’d go a bit further to help the child understand the impact their actions have on others. The real lesson here is about respect and being considerate. In kids’ terms, respect means caring enough about others’ feelings to think before you act. This is your chance to show your child that you have feelings too. Just like he wouldn’t like you to break his things, it doesn’t feel good to you when he breaks your things. Showing children the way their actions impact others builds empathy and is essential in helping kids understand why they should be honest.
Honesty is one of the single most important lessons for children to learn. It’s the foundation of trust, which they’ll need with friends, teachers, parents, and throughout life. Honesty can be challenging to explain, so here are a couple resources that may help.
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