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Raising an Honest Child

Updated on July 23, 2008

Liar, Liar—Nature, Nurture

The day I decided to divorce my ex-husband was the day I caught him telling our then four-year-old son Devon that if you are going to lie, to make sure you stick to that lie, no matter what. “Did I hear correctly? Did you really just say that to him? Are you f***ing crazy?”

The words came pouring out of my mouth and in less than an instant I scooped up that child quicker than a pelican swooping out of the sky to snatch up a tasty meal of ocean fish, stunned and in complete surprise. My then-husband looked at me wide-eyed like a deer caught in the headlights, got up and began running after us just as my son and I fled the scene.

This was actually the final straw in a series of events that would bring down a marriage doomed to fail before it even began. My husband is, was and will always be a liar. He doesn’t just lie about something to protect himself. It’s like a game; he’d lie about what he had for lunch that day to see if he could get away with it. He's the dictionary definition of a pathological liar. Once he told the lie, he seemed to believe it and when he was caught in a lie, he would become defensive and somehow wiggle his way out of it. One time when I questioned him about a woman’s phone number I found in his pants pockets (not the first phone number I found), he claimed I must have planted it to deflect attention from myself, the real person who was having an affair—in his deluded mind anyway. I knew he was a liar, but I thought I could change him. The pattern of behavior however was already ingrained, having been reinforced for over 20 years, it became a battle I could not win and quickly tired of fighting. The foundation that should have been built on solid trust, was instead built on shaky lies that ultimately gave way and came crashing down around us all.

Two years following my ugly divorce, I met and then married a wonderful, honest man who has been the incredible and unlikely father figure my son so sorely needed (not to mention the partner of my dreams). I watched Devon grow and, as if the behavior was biologically based, he began to lie a lot, mostly for self-protection. My husband and I were challenged to teach him early on how to be honest about his actions and accept the responsibility for the resulting consequences. No easy feat, but successfully accomplished.

We told him if he lied about something and we found out, the consequences would be much more severe than if he had told us outright. We told him that in most cases, if he came to us first and was straight and true about what he said, the consequences would be far less severe—and then we did just that. In some cases, Devon told us about very minor infractions, such as calling someone a name at school. For these actions, the most appropriate discipline was a discussion around the dinner table about people’s feelings, a perfect opening for conversation. It took time, consistency and follow through, but Devon soon learned that he could openly discuss problems without the fear of inappropriate punishments.

The result has been remarkable. As united parents, we killed two birds with one stone. Devon has grown up to be an honest adult. He’s aware of his actions, accepting of consequences (for the most part, he’s still only 20-years-old!) and he is confident that he can tell us anything without us overreacting or flying off the handle wielding weapons of mass destruction (i.e. threats to shut off his internet).

Just because a child lies does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that they are pathological liars. Kids lie for many reasons, to get something they want, to avoid punishment and because they wish things were like in their lies. Many things about Devon’s father have been passed on to him, that’s biology and I can’t fight it. However, nature or not, a conscious decision was made to raise an honest child and nurture that liar right out of him. Here’s how you can too.

  • Lead by example. By living an honest life, your child will model your behavior and learn that honesty is valued. By kindergarten, your child has already developed an understanding of the concepts of truth and falsehood.
  • Praise them for telling the truth. It’s easy to overlook, but positive reinforcement goes a long way — especially early on in the unwanted behavior.
  • Avoid labels and tell your child you don’t like lies and that if they continue to lie to you, you won’t be able to believe what they tell you (a great opportunity to check out “A Boy Who Cried Wolf” from your local library). By calling a child a liar, their knee-jerk response will be defensive. Over time, a child may begin to believe in those labels.
  • Acknowledge their feelings and ask them why they lied. Opening up a dialogue by recognizing the feeling that motivated the lying, without placing blame will give your child a safe place to talk about those feelings.
  • Keep a cool head. Most ineffective punishments come out of anger. If you are able to remain calm, you will often be able to come up with more productive solutions.

How to Identify a Pathological Liar

  • They exaggerate everything and lie about the smallest things, even when it’s easy to tell the truth.
  • They change their story all the time.
  • They are one-uppers. Whatever you do, they can do it better.
  • They create their own realities. They don't value the truth, but see their lies as not hurting anyone. They act very defensively when questioned or challenged.
  • They often do not value loyalty. Their loyalty is fleeting, and because they are insecure, they will find solace in confiding to whomever is in their favor at the moment.
  • They lie to get sympathy or to look better.

  • They are repeatedly getting caught in lies. They contradict what they say which will become very clear over time. It is not possible to keep track of so many lies even if they believe them to be true.
  • They never own up to the lie, no matter what.

Comments

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    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut

      This is wonderful advice on such a difficult parenting challenge. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insight!

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      Thanks Amy Jane! Yes, a parenting challenge indeed. But like all parenting challenges, with your commitment and consistency, it will pay off 10-fold in the end.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 8 years ago

      I totally agree with your advice, I have done the same with my children and so far so good. Thank you for writing about this topic, I think many will find it useful on several different levels.

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      Thank you Hopefully! It's satisfying to know there are others who value honesty and pass that value on their children, so thank you.

    • profile image

      Lisa Pederson 8 years ago

      I grew up under a step-father like that. He'd lie about everything. It was amazing what he'd choose to lie about.

      Now I absolutely HATE lying people.

    • MaxReviews profile image

      MaxReviews 8 years ago from Torrance, CA

      Wow, thanks for that inspiring story! Although I do not have children yet, it's comforting to know that there are proven ways to raise them right so thay they don't have reasons to be liars. Great list on how to identify pathological liars...I will def keep that in mind to screen out the girls I date in the future! =P

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      Hi Lisa, sorry to hear about your step-father's problem. I'm sure it wasn't easy, but it sure looks like it shaped who you became. Maybe something good came out it. Thanks for reading!

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      Hi Max, I don't know how actually proven my theories are, just a suggestion on where to start and something to think about with kids. Best wishes for honest girlfriends!!

    • Julie A. Johnson profile image

      Julie A. Johnson 8 years ago from Duluth, MN

      Great suggestions, and very helpful to identify characteristics of pathological liars. Parenting is a hard task, and it's great you addressed this issue early with your child. Keep writing!

      Julie

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      Thx Julie, that means a lot coming from you!! Sadly, liars are everywhere and we really need to keep our BS detectors honed!

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, but it occurs to me that lying often grows out of feelings of insecurity. If that's true the most basic essential in raising an honest child is to make him or her feel secure about the love of their parents and other adults and to have good feelings about him or herself.

      Good hub. It will get people started thinking about an important subject.

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      So, so true Ralph. Excellent point. Security is one of a child's basic needs, along with food, shelter and love.

    • queen cleopatra profile image

      queen cleopatra 8 years ago

      I have 3 kids and raising them to grow up as honest adults is like a full-time job (with lots of overtime) without pay. I received the hefty bonus now that I see those kids had turned into honest teenagers. They're not perfect, of course. Sometimes, they're tempted to tell white lies or lie by omission--but because I (as their mother) have ingrained the value of honesty deep in their hearts and minds, they quickly own to lies they had told. All parents must realize that parenting do really mean a lot of responsibility. Thank you for creating such a wonderful hub, tbelgard!

    • Cailin Gallagher profile image

      Cailin Gallagher 8 years ago from New England

      What a heartfelt and touching hub. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

    • seohowto profile image

      seohowto 8 years ago from Bay Area, CA

      thanks for sharing your personal experience, I am glad you were able to make the right decision. Great hub!

    • oryzana profile image

      oryzana 8 years ago from asia

      thanks for sharing. i really need those.

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      Thanks for your comments Queen, Cailin, Seohowto & oryzana. Queen, don't let your guard down for a second. The teenage years are probably the most critical. They will test you, but your commitment and consistency will win out in the end!

    • dsivadasan profile image

      dsivadasan 8 years ago

      wow, that is a great hub!

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      Thanks for your reading support dsivasasan!!

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California

      This is a really helpful hub, honestly. It would be hard to reverse damage already done, but it sounds like you have a great handle on what's right :)

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      Reversing damage is hard but not impossible. It takes longer and as always, consistency is key, but if you are dedicated to passing this value on, it can be achieved. I really appreciate your comment, thank you!

    • profile image

      Agro Donkey 8 years ago from Ohio

      Luckily my little girl isn't talking yet and so I haven't had to deal with this but it is nice to be prepared for it when it does finaly happen. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on this subject and keep up the good work, both here on hubpages and at home raising your children.

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      It's never too early to be consistent and start setting a good example. Best to you and yours AD!

    • raguett profile image

      raguett 8 years ago

      This is a really great hub, It's never too early to teach good habits, unfrtunatly people who lie all the time there whole lves are much harder to teach...Tanks for the advice

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      You are so right raguett, it is harder to teach an old dog new tricks, but they can learn at any age!!

    • 02SmithA profile image

      02SmithA 8 years ago from Ohio

      tbelgard,

      Great hub. Never owning up to a lie is probably the worst sign. If someone can never own up to it, they're bound to do it again!

    • tbelgard profile image
      Author

      tbelgard 8 years ago from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest

      Right on, kind of like an addict. You must first admit the problem. Thanks for reading!

    • clintonb profile image

      clintonb 5 years ago from Adelaide, Australia

      I jus simply cannot stand liers. It was good of you to move on from a person. Its a tough decision..but at the end of the day..lying just ruins relationships.

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