Parent’s Example More Important in Teaching Children Truthfulness

October 26, 2008 at 5:20 am Leave a comment

Jody Johnston Pawel, founder of the Family Network, has offered some insights into why children lie and what parents can do to teach their children truthfulness, noting that sometimes parents accidentally model lying or respond to lies in ways that actually perpetuate the problem. 

Explains Pawel: “A lie is ‘a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive,’ so even excuses we give to spare others’ feelings or to get out of a jam, and fictional stories, like the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, are all technically lies.”
In a Dayton Daily News report, Pawel is quoted as telling parents that if they are really honest with themselves they will find that they lie more than they think. For example: Telling a child to tell a caller that they are not home, when in reality the parent is standing right there, or lying about a child’s age to get them into a special event, or threatening a child with punishment that the parent knows full well they will not carry out.
Likewise, Pawel gives a four-step response to parents on how to respond when they catch their child lying. 
WHEN DO CHILDREN UNDERSTAND LYING?
Children develop their understanding of lying and truthfulness slowly as they move through developmental stages. Two age periods are especially important in the development of truthfulness. One is somewhere around age three or four, when children can tell a deliberate lie. Adolescence is the other crucial period because teens are capable of understanding that lying destroys trust. Not everyone reaches the final stage and many adults never go beyond the second stage (ages 6-8 years’ old).
PREVENTING LIES
Parents can often prevent lying by:
• Teaching the value of truthfulness.
• Teaching truthfulness repetitively, not only after children already have lied.
• Handling mistakes calmly.
• Questioning children in ways that encourage truthfulness, rather than trying to trap them in a lie.
• Reassuring children that we won’t be as angry if they tell the truth.
• Not punishing truth telling. The consequences for coming clean should never be so severe that it’s worth it to the child to take the risk and lie.
• Acknowledging children when they tell the truth, especially when it was difficult.
ARE WE REALLY GOOD ROLE MODELS?
Unfortunately, conversations about truthfulness aren’t enough to set a child on the path of permanent honesty. We must tell the truth ourselves, even when it’s not convenient or makes us “look bad.” Most of us probably think we don’t fit this criterion, but if we are honest with ourselves, we may discover we lie more often than we think.
Here are just a few ways parents accidentally teach children to lie:
• Tell a child to tell a caller the parent isn’t home, but is really standing right there.
• Lie about the child’s age to gain free entry into special events.
• Lie about a mistake or accident, maybe by blaming someone or something else … but the child was with the parent and knows the truth.
• Tell children a lie to get them to behave. (Like, “I’ll leave you at the store!”)
Such commonplace deceits often go unnoticed — by parents — but children are sponges who soak up these unspoken lessons.
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES?
Even if we teach our children to be truthful and are good role models, it is likely that a child will lie at some point. How we respond to these lies can help determine whether the child continues lying or comes clean permanently.
There is not one perfect response to every lie. Instead, use this four-step response:
1. Identify the goal of the lie by asking yourself, “What purpose does this lie serve?”
2. Avoid reactions that give the goal a payoff or escalate the situation.
3. Show children how to meet their goal without lying.
4. Have two separate disciplines: one for the actual offense and one for lying. The discipline for lying should relate to the breakdown in trust. Children need to understand that if they lie, they are in “double trouble.”
When we understand what lying is and why children might lie, we can prevent and respond to lies in ways that encourage truthfulness. By teaching truthfulness not only in words, but by our deeds, we can raise children who are honest, moral, truthful, tactful and trustworthy.
PARENTS, WHERE YOU CAN GET MORE HELP
Want more insights, specific information and practical tools about each section of this article (and more)?
Get the “Why Kids Lie and How to Teach Truthfulness” teleseminar resource package, which includes:
• A full one-hour recording of a lively discussion parents and professionals nationwide had on many thought-provoking issues related to lying.
• A copy of the chapter Jody Pawel wrote on lying for the soon-to-be-published book, “Wisdoms for parents: From parent educators” by Robert E. Keim & Arminta L. Jacobson, (Eds.)
• For 937moms.com and 513moms.com members only: Mention 937moms.com or 513moms.com in the referral or comments section of the order form and receive a full one-hour transcript, too. It’s a $30 value.
For a detailed description or to order, go to: Teaching Kids to Lie? How to Prevent and Respond to Lies, while Teaching Truthfulness.
For descriptions of other teleseminar resource packages, including “Santa Lies & other Holiday Parenting Issues,” visit our online archives.
Source: BCN/Dayton Daily News
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