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TEACH: The difference between the truth and a lie

Parents often worry when their young children don't tell the truth, concerned that their behaviour somehow reflects on their children's character. Relax! Preschoolers are notorious for stretching the truth. They aren't being defiant or naughty, they're just acting their age. They'll eventually grow out of this stage once they learn the difference between fantasy and reality and begin to develop a sense of right and wrong. As a parent, it's important to view lies for what they are and to treat them not as signs of trouble but rather as opportunities to teach. Telling the truth is something that children gradually learn over the years, not something they know how to do from birth. Here are some teaching moments in which parents can encourage children to tell the truth.

  1. Whenever possible, help your child understand the difference between truth and fantasy. For example, you could say, "I can see that you can make up great stories. We should write them down and make a book out of them."
  2. Show your child that you understand that some lies are wishes. If your child says that he didn't break the window when you know that he did, gently acknowledge, "I know you wish it didn't happen, and I'm sure that you didn't mean to do it, but you did break the window."
  3. Focus on finding a solution instead of simply laying blame. Say, "The window is broken, so what are we going to do about it?"
  4. Explain to your child why telling the truth is important by saying something like, "When people tell the truth it helps us trust them." Ask your child how he would feel if someone told him a lie. Stating important family values and explaining the reasons for instating them helps children gradually adopt the values.
  5. Notice the times when your child does tell the truth, especially when you know it must have been difficult for her to do so, and let her know how pleased you are that she was honest. Children at this age desperately want to please their parents, and often lie to avoid upsetting them. If your child learns that the truth pleases you more than the broken vase annoys you, the truth will usually win out.
  6. Finally, try to set a good example. That little white lie you told when the phone rang and you whispered, "Tell him I'm not here" can confuse the youngster who has just been told that lying is wrong.

Remember, helping children be honest is something that will happen over time, not all of a sudden. So be patient, take it in stride when your child lies, and treat each new situation as a chance to teach him about honesty in a calm and constructive manner.

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