Enriching Relationships for a Lifetime   with Dr. Gary Oliver

Questions & Answers

My 5-year-old has started telling "white lies." How do I help him or her learn to tell the truth?

Somewhere between kindergarten and second grade most children go through a lying stage. Whether its “little fibs” or “outrageous lies” this developmental stage presents Christian parents with an enormous opportunity to teach a core Christian virtue. We've worked with many adults who have lost their jobs, their marriages and their families due to patterns of characterlogical lying that began in their childhood. Patterns of dishonesty will increasingly impair a persons spiritual growth, compromise the quality of all of their relationships, and marginalize their effectiveness in every dimension of their life.

Some people struggle with justifying, rationalizing, and modifying the truth. They don't intend to be dishonest and they don't see themselves as dishonest. While it usually starts with little things, over a period of years that dishonesty can lead not only to the deception of others but also to the deception of self. After awhile it becomes so ingrained and automatic that they're often unaware that they're doing it.

Does your child know that honesty is important? Prayer is always the best place to start. Pray for your child and pray with your child. Ask God for opportunities to tell (through words) and to teach (through actions) what honesty is and what it looks like in action. Thank God that we can always trust Him to tell us the truth.

Then turn to the scriptures. Your child isn't too young to begin to learn what God's word has to say. When our boys were young we got out a children's bible, looked up some of the keys verses on honesty and discussed them together. We tried to apply the principle of the passage to a situation with us or one of their friends that they might be able to relate to. At this stage it's critical that your child gets a clear sense of what honesty is and isn't.

Does you child know what honesty looks like? In Colossians 3:9, the apostle Paul tells us not to lie to each other. When I modify the truth, fib, or present limited aspects of the truth and it leaves someone with an incorrect understanding of what really happened, I've lied. Even when I don't blatantly tell someone the opposite of what's true but I “only” leave out selected parts of what really happened, I've lied. Any time I deliberately mislead someone, even if I can rationalize it by saying, “It's nothing important,” I've lied.

Here comes the hard part. How do you model honesty to your child? Do you say that honesty is important but model something else? Do they ever see you “modify” the truth? Do they ever see you intentionally leave someone with the wrong impression of a situation? If someone calls that you don't want to talk to do you ever say, “Tell them I'm not home?” Early on, as we looked at what we actually modeled for our sons, we realized that while we didn't tell “blatant” lies that I ( Gary) could at times “modify” the truth in ways that constituted a lie.

When you catch your child telling the truth acknowledge it, encourage it, and make sure they understand how important it is. Let them know that God is pleased and that you are pleased. When you catch your child telling a lie have some predetermined consequences that, whenever possible, relate to their transgressions. Don't just punish them, discipline them. Help turn that transgression into an opportunity to learn a life lesson. Help them see the potentially long-term consequences of lying and the long-term rewards of honesty.

Let your child know that honesty is the cornerstone of character and integrity. One of the most important foundational stones for any relationship is trust. In Luke 16:10, Jesus tells us that the person who's faithful in little is also faithful in much. So if a person can't be trusted in little things, he can't be trusted in big things. Let you child know that just as they want to be able to trust you as a parent, you need to be able to trust them. Make honesty a core value of your relationship.


Carrie Oliver, M.A., is an educator and a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D. is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment and Professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. The Olivers have co-authored Raising Sons . . . and Loving It! (Zondervan).

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