Lying is a funny topic in the movies. In Big Fat Liar, lying Hollywood producer Marty Wolf ends up with blue skin and orange hair. In Liar Liar, 6-year-old Max makes a birthday wish that his dad can’t lie for an entire day, creating a hilarious stream of embarrassing incidents. And, of course, in the classic movie Pinocchio, a wooden puppet’s nose grows long when he lies. But outside the movies, lying is not so funny.
So what’s a parent to do when their child’s nose begins to grow? I did some research on lying for an article I wrote for Parent Life magazine. I also conducted a 21-year controlled laboratory study about lying involving thousands of participants. (Well, not really, but I have been a mom and children’s pastor that long.) Maybe these simple steps will help.
STEP 1: Recognize the problem.
I discovered that all lies fall into one of three categories.
- UN-Truth is outright deceit.
- HALF-Truth is leaving out information that might be incriminating.
- Truth-PLUS is embellishing the truth.
Armed with this revelation, parents can quickly recognize a lie and even categorize it!
STEP 2: Start young or start now.
Parents often wonder at what age kids really understand the concept of lying. Research reveals that kids as young as four years old are beginning to distinguish truth from untruth. They are developing a conscience and will express guilt. They also can respond to reason, so start requiring truth and explain why. You can make this step engaging by telling or reading the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” You remember that one, right? Every day the little boy yelled, “Wolf! Wolf!” Everyone ran to help him and then he laughed at them. One day, however, there actually was a wolf. When he cried for help, no one came running.
STEP 3: Determine the consequences for lying and then follow through.
I adapted an old school method—writing sentences. The sentences were Bible verses about lying. I let my kids choose from this list:
- Keep your lips from speaking lies. Psalm 34:13
- Do not lie to each other. Colossians 3:9
- Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” John 14:6
- The devil is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44
One note of caution here: Be careful to not punish imagination. What children imagine can be vivid, making it difficult for them to separate fantasy from fact, pretend from real. Use teachable moments throughout your week to explain the difference.
STEP 4: Reward truthfulness.
Think of something fun. One mom said she drops a quarter in a jar for each episode of good behavior. When the quarters add up, she takes her child to buy a special toy or game he’s been wanting.
STEP 5: Set a good example.
Jasper, a first grader, said her dad got stopped by a police officer for speeding. Her dad told the police officer that he was diabetic and was rushing home to get his insulin shot because he was feeling bad. He got out of paying a speeding ticket, but his daughter knew he lied.
Raising truthful kids is a long-term commitment, but it is worth it. It offers kids a life of integrity and prepares them to stand firm in an untruthful world.
Parents, what steps might you add to this list that have worked for you?