We all prize honesty as an important value. We hope that our spouses, friends, co-workers and colleagues are honest with us, since honesty breeds trust.
Telling the truth means that you create a relationship that’s free of deceit, lies, cheating or mistrust. On the other hand, lying often leads you to make a mess of things, so much so that you sometimes have to struggle your way out of that web of untruths and excuses you’ve “woven”.
Little wonder that with our own children, we all want kids who will own up to their mistakes willingly and seek forgiveness sincerely. But for many parents, raising honest kids is a challenge, especially since, most children under the age of 6 find it hard to distinguish between truths and lies.
Says Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, “Kids lie because they think they can gain something by lying. For example, by lying about having finished their work, they can go watch TV. They also lie to avoid punishments or to get themselves out of difficult situations.”
We all want kids who will own up to their mistakes willingly and seek forgiveness sincerely.
So, create an environment in which junior feels safe telling the truth with the following strategies:
1. Don’t set them up to lie
We like to test our kids. Knowing that junior hasn’t completed his homework yet asking him, “Have you finished your homework?” is simply setting him up to tell a lie. Instead, say “I see you haven’t finished your homework ― please let me see that you’ve completed it before you start playing.” Don’t ask questions that you already know the answer to. If you’re suspicious of what he says, saying “Are you telling the truth?” only gives him the opportunity to pile on the untruths.
2. Be honest yourself
Telling lies, even little white ones, can affect your child’s sense of honesty, says Dr Lim. “This is because younger kids sometimes cannot differentiate white lies from malicious ones easily.” Says Serena Tan, mum to Ryan, now 6, “I remember when Ryan was 4 and he was watching me tear the numbers off the parking coupon. I was ‘cheating’ the first 10 minutes by tearing off a later start time, and he kept asking me why. I couldn’t find a way to explain myself, and I decided then that honesty is really the best policy, especially in front of the kids.”
“If you have no choice but to make that white lie, you should try to explain as much as possible why you did so, emphasising that it was an exception rather than the rule,” Dr Lim notes.
3. Find ways to be truthful
It could be the most foul-tasting medicine that junior has to stomach, but as tempting as it is to tell him that “it tastes great!”, you should simply say “this medicine is good for you.”
Similarly, when your young ’un is clearly disappointed with Grandma’s Christmas gift, don’t tell him to lie about how great it is. While you shouldn’t tell him to be brutally honest and tell her he hates it, teach him to thank her graciously and say that he appreciates her thoughtfulness.
4. Reward honesty
As much as we hate hearing that your munchkin has broken one of the dishes, or that he has torn a page from the storybook you bought him, know that it takes immense courage for him to own up to his wrongdoings. Instead of harping on what he has done wrong, use these opportunities to thank him for telling the truth, and that you “like it when he does that”. This builds on your relationship of trust.
5. Let them experience the consequences
If your child forgets to do his homework till the last minute, for instance, letting him take responsibility for it is a much better idea than to rush it through with him, or perhaps even doing it for him. Shielding him from the consequences will result in him thinking it’s easy to get away with wrongdoing.
“Address the underlying reasons, so they’ll find no need to lie in the future.”
6. Have a “no-shaming” policy
Where your children mess up, your reaction (or overreaction) often determines how honest they will be. Responding harshly, constantly demanding perfection, labelling or name calling can cause children to resort to dishonest behaviour, so they don’t get into trouble. Set discipline rules with your husband, other caregivers and even older siblings. Make your child’s self-esteem and self-worth a priority.
7. Find out why they lie
“Listen and talk to your child when they lie to understand why they have done so,” says Dr Lim. For instance, they might have been too stressed out with their school work and haven’t been able to complete it. “Address the underlying reasons, so they’ll find no need to lie in the future,” Dr Lim adds.
8. Be authentic and vulnerable
Being an authentic parent means being completely honest with your child. So, this means that you should acknowledge your own weaknesses and admit that you, too, fail. Parents are often eager to protect their “always right” image. This is because they fear that telling their child that “I am sorry, I made a mistake, please forgive me” will erode their kids’ respect for them. However, being honest with your own children is undeniably the best way to create an atmosphere of honesty in your home.
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