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Why Honesty really is ‘the best policy’!

Did you know that by age four all children tell lies and that 98% of teenagers regularly lie to their parents?

According to the experts, telling a lie is a normal and important stage of children’s cognitive and social development.

Like adults, children and teens lie for many different reasons including:

· To take control of a situation by changing the story so it works out better for them

· To help them feel important

· When they’re feeling stressed

· Wanting to avoid conflict

· Wanting attention

· Get something they want

· Keep secrets about serious or important issues

So why, and how do we teach our children and teens the importance of honesty?

The expression ‘honesty is the best policy’ dates back to the 1500’s and basically affirms that it is better for us to tell the truth no matter what the potential consequence may be for us.

When teaching children about the value of honesty it is important to stress that honesty is the key to building positive relationships with others based on mutual trust and respect. Being able to admit mistakes rather than lying to cover them up shows children how to take responsibility for their actions, and to learn and grow from their mistakes. Honesty also helps children to be independent as they don’t have to say things that aren’t true just to please others, or to pretend to be something they are not.

Key ways to teach children and teens how to be honest.

1. Rolemodel honesty

While it sounds so obvious, children do copy what they see, so make sure you don’t send mixed messages by expecting them to be honest but not demonstrating the behaviour consistently yourself. If you do find yourself having to lie, explain the reason why you are doing that so it’s clear to your children why in rare or certain circumstances it may be necessary.

2. Set clear rules and consequences

It’s easier for children if they have clear rules and consequences set out for them in advance, rather than being caught by surprise when their behaviour is disciplined with harsh and disproportionate punishments. Teenagers are more likely to ask for permission and confess if they have broken a rule if they respect you and know that you are being fair, supportive and just want what’s best for them.

3. Acknowledge and appreciate honesty

Give your child the opportunity to tell the truth, reminding them that that is more important to you than the behaviour they may have done. Telling them how appreciative and proud you are of them for telling the truth will balance any potential negative consequences for their actions.

4. Teach tact

While honesty is important it’s good to explain that tact is how we can balance honesty with consideration for other’s feelings. While we want to teach our children to be honest we also want to teach them to be kind as well. While not encouraging them to lie, it is helpful to show them how to say things in a more positive and encouraging way that doesn’t hurt or offend someone’s feelings.

5. Don’t reward lies

While it can sometimes be easier to ignore any lies you become aware, of, by not calling it out, you are condoning and teaching children that they can ‘get away with’ lying. Try to understand the underlying reason or need they have in telling the lie in the first place and how you can help them achieve that without the need to lie.

6. Make it easy for them to tell the truth

One of the main reasons for children to tell lies is often the fear of harsh or potentially negative consequences. To help them learn to be honest, make sure any consequences are realistic and fit the gravity of the situation. Staying calm, supportive and encouraging helps them also to learn that it’s ‘okay to make mistakes’.

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