Q: We are having honesty issues with our 6-year-old daughter. I’ve heard, “Ask no questions, and they’ll tell you no lies.” However there are times when we really require honesty, but are finding that she can be a bit murky with answers. For example, she will claim she’s hungry to get a snack earlier, claim she did not get out the umbrella to get out of trouble, or say she’s had a nap in order to stay up later in the evening.
It’s gotten the point that we are never sure if it’s the truth or just another lie. When asked a straightforward question, she is unable to give a straight answer, going from yes to no to maybe, or no answer at all, especially when she knows it’s important.
We have removed TV from her schedule, which she loves, and now require that she gets 30 stickers in a row (1 a day) for a day of honesty and straight, clean answers. When she lies, she goes to bed early that day. Have you any opinions on if we should continue the program? Or other suggestions on how else we could handle this problem?
A: Ah, yes, the child with trouble telling the truth isn’t something new—this is an age-old problem! Yes, you should require honesty, but since your daughter has trouble with stating the facts then you need to stop asking her for honesty at this time. Some kids go through a phase where they can’t seem to tell the truth. I suspect she’ll outgrow this with a little assist from mom and dad. Here are my suggestions.
Stop asking her questions—and she will have fewer opportunities to lie. Use statements only with her and don’t let her drag you into arguing that “she didn’t do it” or whatever she might respond to your statement. Make your best reasonable guess as to her role in whatever situation and go with that.
Don’t engage in arguments. Just because a child wants to argue doesn’t mean the adult has to respond. This is key—you are the only one capable of walking away or not saying anything in response to the gauntlet your daughter throws down. For example, you notice the umbrella has been broken and you had told your daughter earlier not to play with it. You reasonable deduce that she has disobeyed. You tell her, “You broke the umbrella.” She responds, “No, I didn’t break it!” You repeat, “You broke the umbrella. Now X will happen.” She responds, “You’re always blaming me for everything!” You walk away.
Decide ahead of the situation what Daughter will be allowed to do. For example, you already know what you’ll do if Daughter asks for a snack or to stay up later, etc., regardless of whether she’s hungry, napped, etc. In other words, don’t let Daughter dictate these things—you already have a plan for the day. For instance, you decide to eat dinner earlier because of evening schedules, so you decide no snacks in the afternoon for the kids. You’ve noticed Daughter seems more tired lately, so you decide no late nights for the week. That sort of thing.
You also read stories about the importance of truthfulness. Stories like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, George Washington and the Cherry Tree and other books or tales provide a safe way for children to explore what it means to be dishonest and what the consequences are for those who lie. Literature is great at helping children realize their own faults.
For now, I’d stop the Honesty chart. Sometimes, when too much attention is paid to a particular problem like lying, it morphs into an even bigger one. Overall, stop talking about honesty and stop asking her for honesty for two to three months, and see if it doesn’t resolve itself.