I remember the feeling of dismay the first time I caught Happiness in a lie. “What? You mean my child is a <gulp> liar?” It was disconcerting to say the least. Lying was a big stumbling block during my teenage years, and got me into lots of trouble. To see my precious preschooler lying this early in her life was almost unthinkable. She was disciplined for the lie, but that didn’t seem to solve the problem. It wasn’t long before another lying incident reared its ugly head. Again, discipline. I wasn’t sure if my approach was effective, but couldn’t think of anything else to do other than pray.
In answer to my “9-1-1” prayer, God sent my way the following advice for Susannah Wesley:
“It had been observed that cowardice and fear of punishment often led children into lying till they get a custom of it which they cannot leave. To prevent this, a law was made that whoever was charged with a fault of which they were guilty, if they would ingenuously confess it and promise to amend, should not be beaten. This rule prevented a great deal of lying and would have done more if one in the family would have observed it. But he could not be prevailed on and therefore was often imposed on by false colors and equivocations; which none would have used (except one), had they been kindly dealt with.”
Susannah’s advice completely changed my approach. I realized that I had been punishing honesty by giving the same level of discipline to Happiness when she confessed her disobedience as when I caught her in the act. Thus she was afraid to tell me the truth because she knew she’d get in trouble. She didn’t have the maturity to think long term. I’m quite confident that even if she wanted to, she is too young to think, “If I tell the truth now and get in trouble, at least I know God will reward me some day.” Too abstract for that small mind.
I sat down with Happiness and had a talk about honesty. The next time she disobeyed, I encourage her strongly to tell the truth. She finally confessed, and instead of the punishment she was dreading, I praised her. I gave her a hug and told her how proud I was of her for being honest even when it was hard. And it worked! She began to consistently tell me the truth. There have been a few times where I’ve still lectured her for a disobedient attitude or foolish choice, but I’ve tried to do it gently and in a way that won’t make her feel stupid or embarassed for being truthful. It’s now an unspoken rule of discipline in our home: if the child is honest about whatever the subject is, they will be treated very gently. Lying, on the other hand, will be punished more severely. Seems to be working so far!
How about you? How have you dealt with issues on honesty in your family? I’d love to hear other thoughts on this issue.