Truthfulness has been in the spotlight lately. On the one hand, secular worldviews say that all values are social constructions meant to suppress some and empower others, so how could lying, or anything else, be wrong? And on the other hand, certain people get fact-checkers looking for truth (is that a socially-constructed value, too?) and each lie that is told is tallied up like days in a jail cell.
But Christians don't have to be tossed around by the changing confusing views of society. Proverbs 6:16-19 tell us 7 things that are detestable to the Lord, and lying is one of them. There's the Truth with a capital T.
If we treat this as a habit, then we can help the truth come readily to our children's tongues. Our approach must be informed or wise, because sometimes even our most genuine efforts can cause children to lie more readily.
Charlotte Mason gave us three reasons that people lie, and being aware of these can help our children develop the habit of truthfulness.
This post was updated May 2019.
Three Reasons People Lie
In Home Education, Charlotte Mason explained that lying has three different causes:
“The vice of lying arises from three causes: carelessness in ascertaining the truth, carelessness in stating the truth, and a deliberate intention to deceive.” Home Education, page 164
Ascertaining the Truth
- Stating things they aren’t sure of
- Making claims they can’t possibly know
Stating the Truth
Deliberate Intention to Deceive
- Lying to avoid consequences or discipline
- Lying to preserve personal integrity
The Habit of Truthfulness
Charlotte Mason devoted a lot of ink to the habit of truthfulness. In each of these reasons she gives us, we can find ways to develop the habit of truthfulness in our children.
“Now, of the three kinds of lying, it is only, as a matter of fact, the third which is severely visited upon the child; the first and the second he is allowed in.” Home Education, page 165
Ascertaining the truth
When children are young, they love to tell stories- sometimes making up details and events. This is adorable. But when we started working on the habit of truthfulness with our daughter, I realized I had to use these made-up events to encourage her to search for the truth in her words and actions. Not allowing these slips in truth, with a raised eyebrow and gentle question (Is this true?) is important during a child’s early years.
Stating the truth
We don’t think much of a child’s exaggerations, partly because they are sweet, and partly because our world is full of exaggeration. But allowing them paves a way for future lies. If our children see that it’s okay to exaggerate, they soon decide that it’s okay to not tell the truth. When we worked on this with Miss H, I simply asked her, “Do you think you really ate 100 pieces of candy? I think it was probably more like three.” That was the extent of the conversation, but even that slight challenge taught her that lying isn’t accepted.
Deliberate intention to deceive
This cause of lying is the most difficult to stop, because, as Charlotte Mason alluded to, they aren’t typically allowed in this type of lying. I’ve learned through my experiences as a teacher and a mom that how we frame things for our children makes a huge impact on their truthfulness. Instead of asking questions that could easily be met with a quick lie, turn them into statements. Instead of, “Did you clean your room?” say, “Let me go see your nice, clean room first!” By framing it that way, you are making it more difficult for your child to lie.
Did you eat your whole dinner? ------ Please bring me your empty plate.
Did you finish your work? ------ I’d love to see the results of your hard
Did you push your brother? ------ Your brother is crying and he looks hurt. Please tell me why.
Other Strategies to Encourage Truthfulness
Teach about right and wrong. The habit of truthfulness is developed like other moral habits: we have to teach children about right and wrong, and if we are Believers, that right and wrong come from God. We can’t twist honesty around to serve our own purposes because God’s truth is steadfast. (Read my post about authority here).
When searching for the truth, give your child some time to answer you. Sometimes when we play investigator and demand an answer immediately, kids impulsively shout out a lie, and then dig themselves deeper into it. If we give them some time to answer and say, “I want you to think about what’s really true, and when you’re ready, go ahead and tell me.”
Model truthfulness, even when it’s difficult. Explain to your child when you choose truth (in an age appropriate way!)
Show that you think they’re honest. This is helpful because your child will know that you expect the truth from them. Painting them in a negative light, especially in their own eyes, creates a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” My lovely former principal got down on a child's level and say, "This is just not like you," an approach that's helpful in handling many different behaviors.
Give a natural or educative consequence. A natural consequence will occur without any interference from you. An educative consequence is established by you, but is related to the offense.
A Thought on Brutal Honesty
Do you think people who claim themselves to be “brutally honest” are honest about everything? Like, Abe Lincoln chasing customers for miles to give them their penny kind of honest? I don't think so. I think the term "brutally honest" exists to help people feel better about being mean. Kindness and gentleness are fruits of the spirit- we can be honest while being kind and gentle. As I teach my children the habit of truthfulness, I’ll also teach them the habits of kindness and gentleness.