Your five-year-old son is playing in the next room. * Suddenly, you hear a crash. You run to your son, and you find him standing next to a shattered porcelain vase. The guilty look on his face tells you everything.
“Did you break that vase?” you ask your son sternly.
“No, Mommy, I didn’t!” he quickly replies.
This is not the first time you have caught your five-year-old in an obvious lie. Should you be worried?
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
All lying is bad. The Bible says that Jehovah God disapproves of “a lying tongue.” (Proverbs 6:16, 17) The Law given to Israel imposed strict sanctions on anyone who deceived another person.
But not all lying is equal. Some lies are malicious; they are told to harm another person. Other lies are uttered under the pressure of the moment, perhaps to avoid embarrassment or punishment. (Genesis 18:12-15) While all lying is wrong, some lies are more serious than others. If your child told a lie, consider his age and his reason for hiding the truth.
You should address the problem while your child is still young. “Telling the truth, especially when it’s hard, is an important lesson for children,” writes Dr. David Walsh. “Relationships are based on trust, and lying will break that trust.” *
Do not panic, however. The fact that your child has lied does not mean that he is on a fast track to moral corruption. Remember, the Bible says: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” (Proverbs 22:15; footnote) Some children manifest such foolishness by lying, perhaps thinking that it is an easy way to avoid punishment. How you respond, then, is important.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Try to discern why your child is lying. Does he fear punishment? Does he not want to disappoint you? If your child spins stories to impress his friends, is it because he is not old enough to understand the difference between reality and fantasy? If you know why your child is lying, you will be better able to correct him.
At times, use statements instead of questions. In the scenario described at the outset, the mother, who already knew the facts, sternly asked her son: “Did you break that vase?” The child lied, perhaps fearing Mom’s wrath. But instead of asking an accusatory question, suppose that the mother had simply stated: “Oh, no, you broke the vase!” By using a statement rather than a question, she does not tempt the child to lie
Praise honesty. Children naturally desire to please their parents, so use that inclination to your advantage. Let your child know that honesty is an important family value and that you therefore expect him to be truthful.
Make clear to your child that lying destroys trust and that it can take a long time to rebuild trust once it is broken. Reinforce good behavior by praising him when he tells the truth. For example, you could say, “It makes me happy that you are honest.”
Set the example. Obviously, you cannot expect your child to be truthful if he hears you say such things as “Tell him I’m not home” when you do not want to speak to someone on the phone or “I’m staying home sick today” when you really just want to relax.
Use the Bible. Its principles and true-life accounts promote honesty. The book Learn From the Great Teacher, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, can help you to instill Bible principles in your child. Chapter 22 is entitled “Why We Should Not Lie.” (See an excerpt from it in the box “A Book to Help Your Child.”)