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August 18, 2020

Helping your children to develop the virtue of honesty

By Sophie Barcant, BA (Psyc), B.ED, Trainer, Facilitator, Parenting Coach/Consultant

Why do children lie? There are many reasons, here are a few. Parenting expert Dr Laura Markham says it is developmentally normal for four-year olds to lie. They lie to avoid punishment, so children who get punished a lot will tend to lie more.

It is clearly not safe for them to tell the truth if they will be put to sit in a naughty corner, spanked or shouted at. We are designed to avoid pain so we will do all it takes not to experience it.

What makes us adults trust and confide in others? It’s the feeling that it is safe to do so. It is feeling sure we will not be criticised, ridiculed, or shamed. Our children are no different.

I used to offer a reward to my children for telling the truth. The offenses were so minimal that the consequences I would then have to let them experience were not painfully unpleasant.

This made it easier for them to admit to their future wrongdoings. Of course, feeling safe enabled them to also engage in calm rational conversations about their offenses and therefore learn right from wrong.

When we are sure they have told a lie, rather than accuse or threaten them, this is a time to have a loving safe conversation explaining the value of being honest and the possible consequences or dangers that could ensue when the truth is not told.

Children appreciate stories that illustrate these points. Adapting  the story of the boy who cried wolf to a personal family example can be very effective.

Another reason young children will lie is because they are so absorbed in their world of fantasy and play that they do not want to stop what they are doing to obey our mundane demands like brushing teeth, washing hands, doing homework, feeding pets etc.

Let’s be mindful of this fact and help them out of their little imaginary worlds to get on with what must be done.

My favourite ‘Love and Logic Enforceable’ statements can be very handy to use in these cases. For example, “children who have sweet soapy smelling hands get a snack”, and “I read stories to children who brush their teeth”.

There are hundreds of ways to adapt these to get children to obey and reduce the occasions for lying.

A typical reason for lying is not to disappoint parents. Here again, the way to avoid this is to have constant conversations with them that they are and will be loved unconditionally no matter what they do, and it is okay to make mistakes. Generally most children will lie, be deceptive and behave antisocially when they do not feel unconditional love and when primary psycho-emotional needs are not met.

It is not uncommon for little children to make up stories, appearing as lies, when they feel fearful or anxious about things in their life, especially when they overhear a lot of bad news and negative conversations.

We just need to be aware of this possibility before assuming that the child has a lying problem. They simply do not know how to process and express fears and anxieties and making up stories about tummy aches or people doing things that they did not actually do could happen.

Of course, children will imitate us so we must set the example and be honest ourselves. Remember they listen not only with their ears but as I have said before they have a sixth sense that reads us. What we think does come out in our behaviour and tone, whether we are aware of it or not.

As Catholics wanting to form our children in the faith, it is certainly helpful to remind them that the ninth commandment i.e., “Thou shalt not lie” like the others, has been given to us as a guide for a happier life, both here and in the next.

For more on this topic look at

Look out for the next article when we will explore forming honest teens.


For personal coaching on how to instil these very essential character traits in your children, contact Sophie at or 799-9933 and follow her on, FB Sophie’s Parenting Support or Instagram Sophies_parenting-support.