How do you react to bad behavior?
If your children are concerned about negative consequences such as being punished when they make mistakes, they will not feel safe with telling you the truth. Practice neutral reactivity with your calm voice and body language (although it can be hard at times!) and focus on solutions that will solve the problem instead of assigning blame.
How do you connect with the emotion of the moment?
When your child is being dishonest, try to understand what made her feel that she could not be honest with you. Instead of pointing out the lie, try, “That sounds like a bit of a tall tale to me. Maybe you felt worried to tell me the truth. Let’s talk about it.” You will get the honesty you are looking for, as well as information that may help you encourage the truth in the future
Do you provide your child a chance to remediate the problem first?
Do not give your child the opportunity to lie by asking questions to which you already know the answer. For example, instead of asking, “Did you study for your math test?” try, “What are your plans for preparing for tomorrow’s test?” If your child has not studied, she can save the moment by focusing on a plan of action rather than lying to you. Encourage any last minute attempt to “save the moment” by creating opportunities for telling the truth.
How can you reinforce and encourage honesty?
When your child tells the truth, praise her! Express encouragement when the truth is told for example, “That must have very hard for you to tell me what really happened. I admire your courage for telling the truth”
Do you own up to and celebrate mistakes (even your own)?
Think of mistakes as a way to learn to make better choices in the future. If children know that you will not be disappointed when they make mistakes, they will be much more willing to share the truth. To respond, say something like, “Here’s a great opportunity to think about what you could have done differently. If you could have a chance to do this again, what would you do differently?” If your child’s actions negatively affected another person, ask, “What do you think can be done to help make the situation better for your friend?”
Provide unconditional love.
“I will always love you even though I am disappointed in your behavior”. Make sure your child knows the distinction! Let them know that while you sometimes do not like their behavior, there isn’t a thing they could possibly do that would change your love for them.
What are ways for you to model appropriate behavior?
Be aware that children are observant and are always tuned in. Whether you are failing to correct the cashier who gives you too much change or making up a story about why you cannot volunteer for a school fieldtrip, remember your actions provide an important example for acceptable behavior.
Written by Sudha Ramaswamy, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA