Honesty is a learned trait. Children learn how and why to be honest from the important people in their lives. It is never too soon for a lesson on the value and importance of honesty. Here are some things parents can do to model, teach and encourage honesty.
Avoid labels. Don’t call your child a liar. It’ll only make him defensive, and over time he may start to believe in and live up (or down) to the label. Instead, let him know that you don’t like lies, but you still love him — no matter what he’s done. Say gently but firmly, “That doesn’t sound like the truth to me. Sometimes we all worry about telling the truth if we’re afraid we’ve done something wrong.”
Praise truth-telling. When your child tells the truth, reward him with praise as specifically as you can. Especially if he’s been caught lying in the past, he’ll feel great about himself when he hears you say, “Thanks for telling me the truth. I like it when you do that.”
Don’t forget “little white lies.” You want your child to be honest, yet not so honest that he blurts out things that hurt people’s feelings. Explain why it’s important to look for and find something positive to say in any given situation or to any given person. Explain why this is not considered lying. A child may not be able to polish this skill in their early years but they can practice it and watch you model it. For example, in the case where a child receives a gift they do not like, it may be best to simply say, “Thank you.”
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Teach your child that lying doesn’t work. We all lapse, and children are no exception. If your child denies a certain behavior, hold him accountable for his mistake by teaching him ways to make amends.
Set a good example. The best way to teach honesty is to be honest. Even when difficult subjects such as illness, death, or divorce come up, try to be straightforward in an age appropriate way. If you make the mistake of lying, accept your mistake to your child, and discuss possible, more effective alternatives.
Being honest is a lifelong process that begins early. Use every opportunity to nurture and grow your child’s honesty.