Teaching Children to Tell the Truth

Teaching Children to Tell the Truth - Parenting Like Hannah

Photo by George Bannister

Lately, I have been troubled by several conversations I have had with young adults. The conversations are troubling not just because the person is doing something against God’s specific instructions, but because of the attitude that obeying the Bible is somehow optional for Christians. The exact wording is usually something like, “Well I know there are those one or two scriptures in there that say such and such, but….”.

I have also been stopped from helping improve some programs I volunteer for, as I am told everyone else has told the program leaders things are fine. Ironically, “everyone else” has been telling me in private how miserable they are about how things are going in the various programs. When I ask why they haven’t said anything, the response is usually “I didn’t want to make any waves, so I just said things were fine”.

When I began to analyze these conversations, I had a sudden insight. We have stopped valuing God’s Words, the Bible, as The Truth. Even more disturbing, is that our society not only no longer values any truth, it doesn’t even recognize the difference between truth and lies.

The problem is the Bible makes it clear telling lies is one of the sins that annoys God the most. I know this because as a young child I went through a brief and apparently very annoying period of lying. My mother eventually “cured” me, by making me read all of the scriptures that pointed out liars were evidently on a fast track to hell! While this is a tried and true technique used by many Christian parents for years, I think we should make teaching about truth an important part of our child’s training. Perhaps if we can be more intentional in our truth training, we may not have to use fear as a deterrent.

The first struggle many of us may have is defining the difference between truth and lies. Having lived up and down the Eastern Seaboard, I will say this may be more of a struggle in some areas of the country than others. In general though, Satan wants us to believe that there are somehow degrees of lies, some of which are acceptable to God.  In Satan’s world there is the “little white lie”, the “I just left that part out” lie, the social “I love that outfit” lie, the “tell them what they want to hear to avoid conflict” lie and perhaps my favorite the “it’s fine” lie. Satan has done a great job of convincing us these are not really lies at all, but a Christian way of protecting other people from unnecessary pain.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any scriptures to back up this theory. God wants us to tell the truth. Period. What people don’t understand is that in addition to the spiritual consequences of lies, lies have other consequences both for us and the people to whom we tell our socially acceptable lies.

People often justify lies as avoiding hurting the feelings of various people. If you spoke the truth in love though, you may have saved more than their feelings. Someone asks you if she smells bad. You don’t want to hurt her feelings so you tell that “little” lie. Now the problem is not addressed. If it is a continuing problem, she may make a poor impression on a job interview because of her odor. You didn’t really spare her feelings, you cost her a job.

Someone at church asks you if a specific class or program is helping you grow spiritually. Once again, you lie to protect feelings. Now the program cannot be improved, because everyone believes it is effective. Not only is your spiritual growth hampered, but so is that of those who may eventually leave God entirely because of the poor quality of the class or program. Wow! That “protective” lie to avoid “making waves” may just have eternal consequences for someone else.

We experience consequences because lies are often poorly told or the truth eventually comes out. We are not viewed as people of integrity. Our word is never entirely trusted, because we have lied in the past. The more partial truths we are caught telling, the less people will trust our word about anything. The boy who cried wolf could have been seeing a large dog and crying wolf and the story would still be the same in the end.

1. The first step in teaching our children to value God’s Truth is to teach them to value truth in general. Teach your child that “a lie is a lie” and the truth should always be “the whole truth”. It is sadly funny when I ask a child or teen their opinion on something. They always get this same look in their eyes while they try to figure out what I want to hear. I often have to reassure them several times that I want to hear what they truly think before I get the truth out of them. They always say “Really?”. It is sad they have been trained that adults would rather hear the lie than the truth. I always tell them, I may not like or agree with what you say, but I always want to hear the entire truth.

2. Tell your child over and over again that you always want to hear the truth, the entire truth from them. Enforce the rule that lies will not be tolerated and punishments will be more severe if lies are later revealed. There may even be some occasions  (at your discretion) where the truth is rewarded by not punishing the misdeed.

3. Part of encouraging your child to be truthful is to control your own reactions to the truths they tell you. Think before you react to what they tell you. Control your temper. If it helps, pretend you are a professional of some sort that must remain calm no matter what is said. Your over-reaction communicates to your child you would prefer not to hear the truth after all. Rebellion still needs to be punished and children disciplined, but children are often screamed at for telling truths that have nothing to do with rebelling against rules.

4. Allow your child to begin to formulate her own opinions about issues. If you disagree, discuss your points in a calm non-threatening manner. Respect your child as being capable of intelligent discourse and have a rational exchange of ideas. I can almost promise you the opinions of your child on almost any issue may change often and rapidly over the next ten or fifteen years. If you over-react, your child will begin lying and withholding information about a variety of subjects to avoid conflict with you.

5. Respect your child’s wishes when he tells you something in confidence. Often children try to help each other, but want an adult’s opinion that they are saying the right things to their friends. If a child asks you not to tell anyone what Amy told her, don’t. The only exception is if the child is in some sort of real physical or spiritual danger. Children often begin withholding the truth merely because they don’t want you to embarrass them or their friends by blurting out private information in public.

6. Of course, the most powerful teacher of truth is your example. Cut out all lying from your own life. Don’t tell your child to tell someone on the telephone you “aren’t there”. Simply tell them to say, “Mom asked me to please take a message.” Remember, “No.” is a complete sentence. Often adult lies are excuses why they can’t do something they don’t want to do. Excuses aren’t needed or wanted. A simple, “No, I won’t be able to help you with that.” is sufficient.

7. Model for your child how to tell the truth in love. When someone asks if they are fat or if you like their obviously ugly outfit, show your child how to be honest and loving at the same time. “That’s not my favorite one on you. I always thought you would look great in a pretty red dress. I saw some cute ones at LMQ last week.” You don’t have to be hurtful to be truthful.

You also are not required to go around giving your “honest” opinion to everyone about everything all of the time. Remember a lot of issues are your personal opinion and may not be shared by anyone else – opinion is not necessarily truth, it is your opinion and may or may not have any real value. (However, if you are asked to give your opinion, you should be truthful.) Try to focus on spiritual issues or other issues like safety that may effect others spiritual or physical well-being if you do not share your truth with them. (This is the time to err on the side of saving others and give your opinion just in case it proves to be valid.)

Next week, I will focus more on teaching your child to recognize and respect God’s entire truth. For now, work with your child on recognizing and telling the truth in general. Teach them the value of being a person of integrity. The one the Bible tells us whose “yes means yes and no means no.” It really is the first step in teaching them to respect and obey God’s truth.

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Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NIV)