There are many ways that parents teach children about the importance of honesty. This is particularly true for Muslim parents who are also incorporating a faith-based sense of consciousness about wrongdoing. No matter how good a job you may do at this, it is quite natural for kids to lie as part of the process of learning about the importance of telling the truth. For this organic process to take root and produce positive results, parents need to be aware of the best ways to respond to a lie.
Different Kinds of Lies
Lies can take various forms and some may be bigger and more significant than others.
- A lie can be telling something that is false or omitting details that may be important.
- Lying can be a result of a child being afraid to tell the truth or to disappoint a parent.
- Children may lie to try to prevent punishment for wrongdoing.
- Sometimes children lie when they are under significant stress to meet impossible demands.
- Other times, they may lie as a sort of “wish fulfillment” or agree to something that is not true to try to be like the parent or someone else.
- Children may be confused about the prohibition of lying when they see their parents tell “white lies” (distorting the truth for convenience) themselves. An example of a white lie might be answering the phone and telling the caller that you don’t have time to talk because you are leaving the house when this is not true.
- They might tell “pro-social” or politeness lies to avoid hurting someone else's feelings.
- Lying can be a verbal statement to deceive but it can also include actions that are designed to deceive such as cheating.
How should parents respond?
Research shows that parents want their children to tell the truth. But when faced with hearing a lie from their child, especially for the first time or when it is quite blatant, parents may overreact and may not send the right message when imposing punishment. It is far better to help children understand why lying is wrong and why telling the truth is important. And that has a lot to do with trust.
Debra Matell Cohen, Ed.D, the John Winthrop Wright Director of Ethical Education at the online resource called Character.org, has developed a chart that identifies examples of common lies in different age groups and an example of an appropriate response from the parent. The details are based on information from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and researchers who have studied lying behaviors in children.
As you can see, in all of these instances and at every age, there is a need to reinforce the importance of honesty and uncover the reason that the lying may be happening in the first place. Is she lying to get attention? Or to keep you from learning about other problems he is having in school? There are times when there should be consequences, but by punishing lying in an authoritarian manner, a parent may be addressing only a short-term rather than long-term impact.
We need to find ways to help our children understand why lying is wrong and how the practice destroys trust. This way, the response can focus on skill-building rather than on punishment. And for the child, the event can become a “teachable moment” rather than a setback.
For more details about the importance of honesty in Islam, see
Zahirah Lynn Eppard is the managing editor of the Muslim Home parenting newsletter project. As Sound Vision’s Director of Religious Education, she has also spearheaded the production of more than 500 online classes serving children ages 3-12 in the Adam’s World and Colors of Islam Clubs. Eppard has also worked in the field of education as a teacher, homeschooler, and Islamic school principal, as a marriage and crisis intervention counselor, and as a lobbyist and social justice activist. She lives with her husband, children, and grandchildren in Maryland.