Lying and Conscience Development
As a preschooler’s brain continues to develop, the imagination takes an important role, forming the basis for creativity. While much of the creativity is helpful, one of the common side effects is a child’s ability to lie to get out of trouble or to obtain something desired. God has placed a conscience inside people to help point them in the right direction. Moral integrity is learned in the early years and fostered throughout a person’s life. Lying demonstrates that a child lacks the internal character to withstand temptation. The desire to have another cookie, the fear of getting in trouble, or simply wanting to get more attention by exaggerating a story can tempt a person to resort to dishonesty to accomplish the goal. Teaching and training during the preschool years can contribute to a strong conscience, and building good character will give kids the ability to do what’s right even under internal pressure.
An Internal Standard
One of the reasons you’ll want to teach the Bible to your kids is because it helps provide a standard of right and wrong. The conscience doesn’t determine right and wrong, but is simply a pointer to do what’s right or to avoid what’s wrong and provides ways to connect your child to God’s spiritual strength. You’ll want to teach biblical truths and tell Bible stories of people that took a stand for what’s right, even when it was difficult. Noah obeyed God even though he had never seen rain and in the face of people who laughed at him. Moses felt inadequate but obeyed God anyway and was able to experience the power of God. Daniel refused to eat the king’s food and continued to obey God and pray, even after the king outlawed prayer. Adam and Eve sinned in the garden and experienced guilt, but then enjoyed the forgiveness of God. Many more stories in God’s word help children understand what it means to do the right thing, make things right, and be honest under pressure.
It’s important to understand preschool development when evaluating what appears to be a lie. You don’t want to treat children’s imagination or magical thinking as dishonesty when instead they need guidance to know how to talk about wishes, desires, and fictional stories. When a preschooler says, “There’s a lion in my basement,” or “The dog told me a story,” it would be better to talk about imagination than to assume it’s deliberate dishonesty. You might say, “Since we really don’t have a lion in our basement, it would be better to say, ‘I wish we had a lion in our basement,’ or ‘Wouldn’t it be crazy if we had a lion in our basement.’ “ Many preschool books contain stories of animals that talk so it’s not surprising that kids would want to imagine the same thing in their own lives. A vivid imagination often needs to be guided by socially appropriate words in order to report the ideas in ways that are truthful. That’s not necessarily lying.
But some children lie and know they are lying and need correction. In that case, a firm approach is important. Firmness balanced with relationship helps clarify that there’s a right and a wrong, an important understanding for good conscience development. One of the goals of discipline is to clarify for children that sin has consequences, that God has created a standard, and then to help kids understand what that means in practical terms for them.
It’s Hard to Confess a Lie
Once you’ve defined lying for a child and clarified that it’s wrong, it’s helpful to have children confess when they’ve been dishonest. One of the hardest things for someone to do who has lied is to admit it. Many times children want to cover up one lie with another or somehow refuse to admit a lie. Although there are some times when you may be uncertain about an incident, when it’s clear and you catch your child in a lie, it’s helpful to require a confession. When you ask the question, “What did you do wrong?” the answer needs to be “I lied.” If your child refuses to answer the question then sitting in a Break for a bit to think about it may produce the desired results. The Break time often allows God to work in the heart and bring about repentance.
You’ll have plenty of opportunity to teach about lying in real life situations. You can model honesty by giving back the excess change when the cashier makes a mistake, telling your mate the truth even when it reveals your weakness, and explaining to your child that a shot might hurt a bit instead of saying that it won’t hurt at all. Children learn about honesty by watching their parents handle ethical dilemmas or situations where lying would be the easy way out.
Children who lie don’t have the internal character to do what’s right. They take shortcuts instead of doing the hard work necessary to be honest. Surprisingly, one of the ways kids learn to do the right thing is to learn how to work hard. You might want to concentrate on perseverance and thoroughness by giving your child more chores or requiring the completion of a tough task and then offer affirmation for a job well done. It’s helpful then to talk about being strong on the inside, not just on the outside. Inner strength is demonstrated by being honest under pressure.
The apostle Paul made an important statement that describes the work of the conscience in Romans 9:1. He said, “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit.” A strong and clear conscience helps a person feel good about being honest and provides an integrity that others see. If your child has a weakness in this area, your work to strengthen the conscience will go a long way to develop a lifestyle of honesty both now and for the future.
Listen to Dr Turansky’s podcast on 6 Truths About Lying Kids Need to Know.