How to Raise an Honest Child

Written on November 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm , by


Actress Lauren Holly recently wrote a blog wondering if her young sons were social deviants because they wouldn’t admit to stealing cans of soda from the fridge at home. In it, she accused them of lying and indicated her ongoing distress about their future.


The reality is that children lie. Preschool children between the ages of 2 and 4 will routinely tell lies that indicate more of a need to please a parent than to actively deceive. As children age, their lies become a little more calculating and deliberate, but most of the time the lies are harmless.

Sometimes kids will withhold the truth because the punishment for honesty is too intense or doesn’t fit the offense. Households that are punitive and harsh don’t promote a safe enough space for self-disclosure.

Know that occasional fibs do not mean that you should turn your kid’s college fund into potential bail money. They provide an opportunity to talk about honesty, trust and the value of speaking authentically from the heart.

Parents should worry, though, if their children’s lies become more frequent and attempt to cover potentially destructive or dangerous behavior (substance use, sexual activity) or declining grades because of missed homework assignments or a lack or preparation.

It’s important to remember that adults lie too. If we are concerned about deception in our children, it is critical to examine our own behavior and modeling. How many times do you tell your child, “Don’t tell your Dad,” or shrug off a phone call by saying, “Tell them I’m not home”?

The next time you have a concern about whether your children are telling the truth, sit them down and frame the conversation with a basic request: “Will you promise to tell me the truth?” Research shows that approach works. They are eight times more likely to fess up. And that’s no lie.

Are you concerned about lies your child is telling? Post a comment and share why.


Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at


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One Response to “How to Raise an Honest Child”

  1. I have several “family” members that are constantly lying to my husband and I: the worse of them all is his oldest son! He used to be honest to his dad and I until he married someone who is a prolific liar. She obsessed with being the center of attention and causing MAJOR DRAMA for EVERYONE concerned until he covers for her with excuses and lies of his own. We can’t trust either one now and concerned for their two young children. I can step back and no longer participate when it comes to family gatherings for the few that we are invited to since they are stationed in MO presently. I believe THAT is her ultimate goal: to separate and distance my husband’s son from his side of the family and only have him interact with HER side of the family. I feel that this destructive behavior will ultimately destroy their marriage once he realizes what’s happening and will “snap” from the pressure. How should my husband and I handle this situation?? Thank you in advance for any attention you may give to my question!