“Disbelief.” That’s how one mother described her reaction the first time her son, in early middle school, told a bald-faced lie, about a homework assignment he “hadn’t gotten,” which sat in his backpack. “I didn’t understand how he could do it,” said the mom, whose older son was compulsively honest.
But kids can, and do, lie, says KnowMore TV child/teen development specialist Robyn Silverman, Ph.D. In fact, says Dr. Silverman, “the majority of kids lie,” even when you saw them steal the pack of gum or hit their sister on the head. “Lying is an important social skill in some ways,” says Dr. Silverman. We don’t mind so much if our children lie to Grandma when she asks if they like the ugly sweater she bought them, for example. But most of the time, we want them to be honest.
Here are nine of Dr. Silverman’s favorite tips for keeping kids on the level:
1. Don’t blow your top. “They need to know that there are consequences to lying, but if you lose your mind, the lesson can often be lost.”
2. Get to the bottom of the lie. Is your child scared to tell you the truth because of how you’ll react? Is she so overwhelmed with homework that she “forgets” she has a project due?
3. Don’t call her a liar. A label can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you call her a liar, she may rise to the occasion.
4. Offer a “do-over.” If you catch him in a lie, let him know he’s caught—then give him a second chance to tell the truth.
5. Make it worth their while to tell the truth. “If they get in so much trouble for telling you the truth, then lying is going to be very appealing.” If they didn’t clean their room as instructed or they tore their sister’s homework, “they need to be able to come forward.”
6. Praise honesty. “Learn to say ‘I’m upset that you [broke the plate, took the cookie], but I’m really impressed with how you told me the truth. That takes a lot of courage. So now let’s take a look at what you did. Now you need to be accountable.”
7. Make the consequence fit the crime. If she ate a cookie when she wasn’t supposed to, take away dessert after dinner. If she took gum from the store, make her apologize to the cashier.
8. Value honesty over perfection. “Make sure they know it’s more important that they tell the truth than that they got an A on the test.”
9. Walk the walk. Don’t lie to your boss that you’re sick when you’re not. And explain to your child that when the PTA called and asked you to chair an event, you were awfully tempted to say you’d be out of town—but you didn’t, “because that’s not what our family does.”
Kids want to know how far they can push it, no matter what the “it” is, says Dr. Silverman. Lying is no exception. Though telling the truth is often the harder road, with these tips you can help them choose it, now and for the rest of their lives.
More from KnowMore.tv:
- Calling All Kids: Time For Your Flu Shot. Really.
- Bullying Begins at Home: How Siblings Can Hurt Each Other
Marianne Wait is a writer, editor and book developer who specializes in health. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneWait.