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Telling the Truth


The Nurtured Heart Approach helps us deal with many complicated issues in a straightforward, transformative way. One example is the subject of truth-telling and lying.


Do you remember as a child feeling unsafe admitting you did something? Perhaps you were asked “Are you being honest?” in a punitive way. Maybe you were lectured about the consequences of saying something untrue. If that traditional approach, warning children that lying is wrong, was effective, the world would be full of people who work hard not to tell a lie.


On the other hand, if you ever interacted with an adult who gently supported you in telling the truth, even when you had done something wrong, you were very lucky. A child who receives positive recognition for being transparent under challenging circumstances will want to have that experience again.


Instead of catching children when they are lying, the Nurtured Heart way is to catch them telling the truth, even in small ways. At lunch time one day, I found a chocolate cookie on the floor next to a five-year-old’s chair. “Is this your cookie?” I asked. “Yes,” she said eagerly. Then, after a moment, she amended her statement: “Just kidding.” I exclaimed at her honesty. The girl beamed in response to this recognition, and asked if I could tell her mom at the end of the day. I did, and the next day the child reminded me how happy her mom was to hear about her truth-telling.


Children may stretch the truth in a variety of ways, but if we remember our goal is to convince them that they are basically honest, we can respond in helpful ways. Four-year-olds love to make up fantastical tales about things that happen to them. When a child says she rode horseback at school, a parent might respond, “You’re using imagination,” thus teaching the distinction between fact and fiction.


When children claim they didn’t hurt someone, and we saw them do it, we can calmly assert that we observed their actions and wonder how they are going to make amends. By not drawing attention to their fabrication but focusing on how to move forward, we help prevent the empowerment of children feeling they can outwit adults by lying.


We can also share ways that even as adults, we struggle with trying to be honest and how much we value telling the truth in everyday situations. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to grow up in a world where people applaud the kind of self-reflection that being honest requires?