When Little White Lies Become More: Talking to Your Children About Honesty

Many parents can probably remember the 1997 movie “Liar Liar,” which stars Jim Carrey as an attorney who cannot tell a lie. While this movie was quite funny, dealing with your children when they are not telling the truth is anything but comical. It’s important to talk with your children about honesty and lying; however, depending on their age, the approach you take should be different. For example, you need to talk to your 6-year-old differently than your 16-year-old. Below, you’ll find some tips for talking age-appropriately to your children about honesty and lying.

Talking to Your 6 to 10-Year-Old

When younger children tell a lie, it usually has an emotional or developmental reason. It’s not always due to simply being “naughty”. Children may feel the need to spare another person’s feelings or want to feel important. There is good news, though. Children who do so are aware of the difference between right and wrong. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t feel the need to lie.

It’s important to try to determine why a child lied. A grade-school age child may tell a tall tale about running a mile in four minutes in gym class. Perhaps he or she simply isn’t fully aware of difference between fantasy and reality. It’s possible that he or she wants your attention. It’s important not to tease or ridicule a child who tells a tall tale. It could be harmful to one’s self-esteem. Tell your child that you know what was said is not true but that you love the child no matter what time it took to him or her to run the mile.

When grade school children lie to cover up for doing something wrong, like knocking over a vase, they know they want to avoid punishment. This can put a parent in a difficult position. You don’t want children to think that they’re going to be disciplined if they tell the truth or lie. Explain why lying is wrong and is unacceptable. It’s better focus on why they lied rather than the lie. Choose reasonable consequences for the lie and make sure you reinforce that you still love them.

Talking to Your 11 to 14-Year-Old

Lying about completing homework or chores is not unusual at this age. White lies to protect a friend’s feelings are also common. However, if your child continuously lies, it could be time to get some professional help for them. It might be a sign of a variety of stresses with which they are dealing.

The best way to deal with lying – unless it is a lie that will endanger another person – is to express your displeasure. They need to understand that lying is not tolerated, why it is not tolerated and that there are consequences. Perhaps they will need to get a bad grade on homework because it wasn’t complete. Now is not the time to help your children get the homework done. Instead, allow them to see what can happen when they lie. Not only does lying hurt grades in this instance it can also damage children’s relationships and credibility. Most likely, your children will grow out of this fibbing.

Talking to Your 15 to 18-Year-Old

It’s hard to be a parent of a teenager – but it’s harder still to be a teenager nowadays! There’s so much pressure to try harder, to fit in and to find yourself. Lying can be a way that a teen sees of dealing with stress. Chronic dishonesty, however, needs to be addressed. Lecturing is likely not the answer, as most teens will likely tune a parent out during a lecture.

It’s better to open up a conversation about lying and honesty. You may only get a shrug or two, but it’s better to acknowledge the lie and let them know that lying won’t get them what they want. Let them know that you are aware of the lie and that there are other options available. Dangerous lies, though, must be dealt with quickly and with consequences, such as those that deal with alcohol or drugs. It may also be time to seek out resources and support.

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