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How to raise honest kids

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






When kids tell lies

You catch your kid in a lie, and you don't know what to do. Sooner or later it happens -- even to the best of parents. The good news: lying is not a sign that your child lacks a moral compass. But all the same, the truth is a better choice, so here's how to encourage honesty in your kids.
Boy with fingers crossed behind backMy 8-year-old requested that I curl her hair, so we made our way to the bathroom to grant her wish. As I brushed out her hair, I noticed a way-too-short clump. "How did this happen?" I asked.
"I don't know," she responded instantly. But within a few minutes, my husband discovered the missing clump in the trash can, and shortly after that, our budding hairdresser confessed. She even showed us the nail scissors she had used to do the damage.

Understanding motive

My daughter's lie was an act of self-preservation. She knew we wouldn't be happy with what she had done, so she felt like she had to lie to avoid punishment. Kind of like when you tell your spouse that the dent in the car was there when you exited the mall and you have no idea how it happened. (Okay, maybe you wouldn't do that, but as a 20-year-old newlywed, I totally did. Came clean an hour later.)
But set aside the truth for a moment, and "concentrate on the problem itself," advises Dyan Eybergen, a child and adolescent psychiatric nurse with over ten years of experience as a therapist and parent educator. In this case, the chunk of chopped hair wasn't really compatible with the curls my daughter wanted, and I told her so. She was disappointed, but she got the message.
Later, after everyone had a chance to cool off, I told her that I wasn't angry about her hair -- it'll grow back -- but I was hurt and upset that she lied to me.

Catch them in the truth

When it comes to kids (and husband, frankly), the trick is to only respond to behavior you want to encourage and ignore everything else to the extent possible. So when your kids tell you the truth, make a big deal about it. Let him know you "appreciate how difficult it was for him to tell the truth when he knows he would get in trouble for doing something he shouldn't have," says Eybergen.
Does this mean no consequences? Not at all. If your daughter admits she was the one who threw the baseball that broke the window, acknowledge how hard that must have been to admit. Then work together -- calmly -- to figure out how she'll earn the money for the repair.

Teach the safety of the truth

Help your kids understand that sometimes people can suffer real consequences -- such as physical hurts -- when someone withholds the truth. For example, if your son and a friend with a nut allergy eat a bagful of cookies and lie about it, the friend could become gravely ill.
"Give the message that telling the truth will give the child a free card out of parent-imposed trouble," says Eybergen. "You may still have to work together to find solutions to the problem and natural consequences might occur due to the nature of the situation, but do not impose extra penalties."

Model the right behavior

Let your kids see you telling the truth -- and talk about it, especially when it's hard. Say things like, "It was really hard to tell my boss I didn't finish that project on time. He was pretty mad, but I learned that I need to manage my time better." Let your kids see you make mistakes and grow from them. They'll be less afraid to admit their own flaws.
Truth be told, your kids will probably still tell the occasional lie. But if you know how to respond when they do, you're already a step ahead. And honestly, isn't that what matters?
What's the biggest whopper your kids ever told you? Tell us in the comments!

For more on teaching kids how to be honest:

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