mom teaching daughter truth for kids while on the playground

Truth for Kids: 5 Tips for Teaching Children Honesty

Does your child tell crazy fibs? Many parents of preschool-age children are concerned when their child starts to tell lies, but this is normal! In honor of National Honesty Day on April 30, I’ll share tips for teaching children honesty. But first, let’s take a look at how little ones differentiate between fiction and truth.

Between the ages of 2 and 6, many children experience something called magical thinking. This is a normal developmental phase that can cause children to believe in a particular fantasy. For example, a child might assert that she must wear her purple rain boots to school to protect herself from catching the flu. Toddlers are not lying in the sense that adults think of it! It’s perfectly normal for young children to fabricate stories that fit with their current wants and needs.

Lying can also be a means for children to avoid unpleasant consequences and try to get what they want. While this type of dishonesty is troubling to parents, know that lying is age-appropriate and normal for young children. That doesn’t mean you should let it go – it’s important to focus on teaching children honesty in a way that will shape their emotional and social development. Here are some helpful strategies:

  • Join the fantasy… Since young children learn best through imaginative play, adults can help connect their child to reality by joining their child in their fantasy realm. While it may seem counterproductive, this simple trick helps children feel validated. If your child insists that eating cookies before dinner will make room in his tummy for vegetables, you might delightfully reply, “Oh! Wouldn’t that be wonderful? If we could eat yummy cookies before dinner to make room for healthy veggies, that would be exciting!”  Then, you can shift to the next step.
  • …then gently redirect. Gently introduce another way to think about the issue at hand. For the example above, you might say, “I think it might work better to put the veggies in our tummies FIRST, so we’ll have room for the cookies afterward. That way our bodies can soak up the healthy veggies first and then our mouths can have a cookie party!”
  • Play real versus pretend games. Build conversations around fiction versus fact by playfully contemplating what is real and what is pretend. You and your child could “make” imaginary muffins and pretend to eat them together in the playroom. Then, make REAL muffins in the kitchen, reflecting on which experience was real and which was pretend while eating the snack.
  • Read books about honesty. There are many children’s stories that can aid in teaching children honesty in fun and age-appropriate ways.  Help your child think critically about what’s happening in books by asking open-ended questions. Examples include:
    • How do you think that made the character feel?
    • Was telling a lie a nice way to act or a mean way to act?
    • Why do you think the character did that?
    • How do you feel when people tell you the truth?
  • Reinforce truthtelling with encouragement. When your child tells the truth, pile on the positivity – especially if they’re coming clean after making a mistake! Children ultimately want to know they are in good graces with their caregivers, so be sure to delight in your child when you catch him being honest and tell him, “Thank you so much for telling the truth!”

Don’t fret if your little one starts telling fibs. It’s a natural part of his development, and with your help, he can understand the difference between the truth and fantasy and the importance of being honest. Want more tips for encouraging good character in your preschooler? Click here!

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