Sarah, a 4-year old girl was given a clear directive by her mom not to get cookies from the cookie jar for it was almost time for supper. But since Sarah loved cookies so much, she was tempted to sneak into the kitchen and try to get at least one piece. But as she was sneaking one out from the cookie jar, her mother comes in the kitchen and asks, “Sarah, what are you doing?” Quickly putting both hands behind her back to try to hide the cookie she said, “Mom, what do you mean? There’s nothing in my hands. I don’t have a cookie behind my back.” Of course, her mom confronts her and tells her that she was caught in the act. To this, Sarah replies, “But mom, it’s really not my fault. Really! I was just trying to smell the cookies but it got stuck between my teeth.”
How can kids come up with these kinds of stories? Who taught them? How did they get this “creative”? Here are three truths about lying that would help us understand our kids better.
TRUTH NO. 1: LYING CAN START EARLY
Do not be surprised when your young child comes to you one day with a story that is completely not true. Our eldest child was only 4 when he told his first lie. Of course we couldn’t believe that our cute, sweet and adorable son would be capable of doing such a thing! But after talking to other parents with far more experience than us, we learned that our son was not an isolated case. Children as young as 3 or 4 years old are capable of lying.
Proverbs 22:15 says that folly is bound up in the heart of a child.
Basically, there are four reasons a child lies: To keep their parents happy, to stay out of trouble, to avoid embarrassment often related to low self-esteem, or because they want attention. Children may fabricate a story about something good they did in school to please their parents. Or if they know they had done something wrong, they may give you another version of what really happened to avoid the punishment. They may also say some things about themselves that are not true so they can belong or be accepted by other kids. Or simply children may lie because their parents haven’t been spending time with them and this is the only way to get their parents to listen to them.
TRUTH NO. 2 LYING SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN LIGHTLY
Children will lie whether we like it or not. That’s how deceitful our hearts can become as Jeremiah 17:9 declares.
How we handle their lying will determine how honest and truthful they will grow up in the future. In our house, we have established clear boundaries we expect from our children to follow strictly. One of them is, “You have to be truthful at all times.” While our society and culture might justify some amount of lying, we cannot tolerate it in our home. We want our children to learn early in their lives that lying has serious consequences.
The foundation for every relationship is trust. Lying breaks that trust. Lying damages our relationships. We want our children to grow up enjoying healthy relationships with others that is why it is one of our priorities to teach them the value of truthfulness and honesty. People who lie think that lying will make things better for them. But actually lying can lead to bigger, and more serious problems if not dealt with properly.
TRUTH NO. 3 LYING CAN BE UNLEARNED
If your child has developed the habit of lying, the good news is it can be unlearned. Our kids can be taught how to be truthful. If we start early and constantly emphasize honesty and truthfulness in our homes, our kids will eventually learn that lying doesn’t have to be the only option.
There are two ways we can train our kids to be truthful. First is to reward honesty. We have to make our children realize that it is always better to tell the truth. Whenever they honestly admit some things to us, we need to appreciate them for it. Verbally affirm them for telling the truth (“I’m so proud of you for telling the truth!”). And at times, even reward them with something tangible like additional allowance or a small toy. This constant reinforcement will encourage them to always be truthful.
Some people would say they don’t like giving rewards. But remember, Hebrews 11:6 says that God rewards His children. It’s perfectly ok to reward as long as it becomes the result of good work rather than a motivation for it.
The second way to train our kids to be truthful is for us parents to exemplify truthfulness. Set a good example for your children. Be truthful and honest in your own everyday behavior. Asking your children to lie for you (“Tell him I’m not home”) is a a way to show them it’s ok to lie. Let your children see you go out of your way to be honest.
If a clerk gives you too much change, point it out and return it. Admit your own mistakes and let your children see how you rectify them. Parental example is very powerful. If we expect our children to be honest, we must show them how.
Remember, our children are learning from us all the time.
What we do today will make a great impact tomorrow.
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