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?
In keeping with our theme on teaching kids to be honest (after all, Book 1 in our Talking with Trees series teaches kids a lesson on honesty), I rediscovered this scenario from renowned parenting expert, John Rosemond.
You are inviting your child to be dishonest
In his book Parent Power!, Mr. 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 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?” . To kids, 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 have addressed honesty vs. lying has a huge impact on whether your child figures it’s a better idea to give dishonesty a try than risk punishment. Even if your child doesn’t lie outright, there’s a good chance he is going to bend the truth to keep himself out of as much trouble as possible.
How to teach honesty
So how can a parent teach kids to be honest and grow up with good traits? John Rosemond recommends you state the obvious and move on to addressing the misdeed.
Back to the vase example: Instead of asking “Did you do break it?” (because you are just inviting the child not to be honest), Rosemond recommends skipping right past the honesty issue by stating “I know you broke my vase. You’ll need to help me clean it up.” That keeps the focus on the misdeed.
Personally, I’d go a bit further to help the child understand the impact breaking the vase has on others. The real lesson here (once you avoid the lesson on honesty) is about respect and being considerate of others. In kids’ terms, respect <http://talkingtreebookscom/ what_is_respect.html)
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 their impact (the consequences of their actions) is essential for them to take lofty concepts like honesty, and to turn them into something they care about.