How to Teach Young Children to Tell the Truth

Sep 29, 2016

Parents looking to raise children who always tell the truth, or are at least less prone to lying, might want to choose George Washington as a role model, and stay clear of Pinocchio.

According to a recent study, the famous tale of how our first president came clean and confessed his guilt about how he chopped down the cherry tree,has been proven to reduce the likelihood of children lying. Research also showed that kids who heard the story of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet whose nose grew each time he told a lie, or “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” weren’t compelled to change their behavior.

How to stop lying habits

The research study discovered that teaching kids how to stop lyingis not an easy task. It isn’t helpful to simply talk about telling the truth or to discuss right from wrong, it just doesn’t have much impact on children lying.

Why do children lie?

Kids have wild imaginations that are developing rapidly. They spend a lot of time in their own fantasy world. This is all healthy and normal. This research was intended for the purpose of grasping when kids learn to lie, why do children lie, and which factors affect moral development.

A recent study by the same team, that took about 10 years to complete, focused on whether or not being honest can be learned from children’s stories with moral endings. A group of kids ranging in age from three to seven was brought in and strategically set up to tell a lie.

They were left alone in a room and asked to identify the sound of a toy, with their backs to it, without peeking.  When the researcher came back, she concealed the toy and had the kids face her. She then read one of the previously mentioned stories with a moral ending, George Washington’s memoir, “Pinocchio,” or “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”  A separate group of children heard, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” a tale without the honesty theme.

Children lying

At the end of the readings, the kids were asked to confess if they had peeked. This is the breakdown of results:

  • Younger kids who heard the George Washington story responded more honestly than the ones who were read “Pinocchio.”
  • Most of the kids peeked and lied: 90 percent of three-year-old children and over 60 percent of the seven-year-old kids lied, equaling about 65 percent overall.
  • The kids who heard about George Washington lied only half of the time.
  • The groups who were read “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and “Pinocchio,” lied just as much as the children in the control group.

Researchers believe that children respond better to the positive outcome of telling the truth rather than the bad consequences that inevitably results from lying.  Kids don’t respond well to negative information.

What to do when your child lies

Bringing up a moral child requires more than just teaching them that lying is wrong. They also need to be taught how to take notice and correctly interpret situations. One example, if a child shoves a playmate, instead of yelling at the child, try to instill empathy by directing the focus to how the playmate must feel after being pushed.

Also, it is very important that parents model honest behavior. Oftentimes children are asked, to tell the truth, and are told the teacher or parent won’t get mad, and they go against their word and get mad anyway.  They focus on the transaction and forget about the promise. Children learn from this type of dishonesty.  Parents need to follow through with what they promise and be an honest example.