The Power of Harbouring Honesty


Dr. Gayatri Bezboruah
"Oh my goodness, this child is lying again," or "Didn't we tell you not to lie?" or "Did you really think you wouldn't be caught lying?"  Our children lie for the same reasons that we adults do: to avoid punishment, to win respect or admiration, to appear better than they actually are, because they don't trust someone with the truth, or because they feel threatened with power. It therefore becomes necessary to teach them the importance of honesty. So how should we go about helping them develop that skill? 
It would help if we don't give our children an opportunity to lie-rather make it easy for them to tell the truth. For example, if we have laid down certain boundaries and expect our children to stay within them, but we know that they disobeyed we need to handle it soon and well. Instead of saying "Did you go beyond the corner at the end of the block?" it is better to say, "Why did you go into the next block?" This type of a question gives them a reason to explain their behaviour rather than to deny what they did. Another thought---when parents are overly restrictive, they set the stage for dishonesty. It is far better to have open and free communication so our children are free to say, "I don't think that you are being fair in what you are doing." And that can be done without malice or anger. Open communication evaluates the situation and allows youngsters to express themselves without talking back in disrespectful manner. 
It also helps if we model honesty ourselves. Children who lie often have adults round them who lie, and very quickly youngsters learn from their example. They overhear someone saying, "No he isn't home," when the person discussed is seated in front of the TV set and doesn't want to be disturbed. Our children pick up on phony excuses which we adults make, like lying to the neighbour about who broke the flower pot.
Its wonderful if we can be honest with our children ourselves. Kids are confronted with a problem. If we aren't honest with them, we shouldn't expect them to respond with honesty. For instance, if we are in a problem and can't take the family on vacation, but we sugar-coat the situation thinking that we are sparing our children the anguish of knowing we are in a tough situation. But, our children pick up on our stress and our insecurity. And the uncertainty of not knowing what is wrong does them  far more damage than telling the truth and being explicit. 
For example, a family member is ill and is hospitalized. Telling our children that everything is all right when they have seen our pain and anguish, will cause confusion and alarm. Better to establish open communication and take difficulty as an opportunity to point out that we can trust God in difficult situations and make it a spiritual object lesson. 
We often have to stress to our little ones that what others may do is different from what we observe in our family. Early in life children begin to understand what truth is. Child psychologists say that by age four most children can sift fantasy from truth. When they have playmates who make it a practice to lie, we must teach our children that honesty is a basic matter of trust and love in our family and help them to understand that trust is important in our relationship. If the behaviour of other children begins to rub off on our children, we sometimes have to put those kids off limits. When our children  learn  that we  still love and accept them even if they have gone beyond limits of acceptable behaviour, it helps them to be honest with us, regardless of the consequences. 
Being honest is a characteristic quality that everyone hopes will be displayed by those in their lives, we especially hope this will be a quality our children will portray. Even those little white lies are lies, especially in situations where they can harm someone or something. Lies can only lead to bigger trouble, in many cases, and even though we want to think our children would never lie to us, they will, at least once in a while.
If we know our children well enough we'll know when they are lying to us. Call it a parent's intuition or just knowing the way our children act in a variety of situations. Parents are gifted with a sixth sense…!
Dr Gayatri Bezboruah is Professor of Paediatrics, Gauhati Medical College, Guwahati. She can be reached at or