"Ask them no questions, and they’ll tell you no lies"

SEL Techniques for Teaching Kids to be Honest

Honesty Strategies- 'Ask no questions, they'll tell no lies'

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.

Tip 1: Don't invite your child to lie

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.

Why children aren’t honest about obvious misdeeds

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.

Tip 2: State the obvious and move on

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.

Explore some resources to teach honesty

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.

  • Be Proud Story- Share this story about a boy who learns to listen to his conscience and make honest choices that he can be proud of.
  • Honesty Teaching Resources- Explore free, printable worksheets, presentations, posters and more teaching resources about honesty.

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Colleen Doyle Bryant

Author of social emotional learning books and teaching materials including Talking with Trees series for children and Truth Be Told Quotes for teens.