Create a story with a lesson – ‘Telling the Truth’

 Fairy: Why didn’t you go to school, Pinocchio?

Pinocchio: I was going to school…but then I met two monsters with big green eyes… they tied me in a big sack…

Fairy: And where was Jiminy?

Pinocchio: They put him in a little sack!

Fairy: How did you escape?

Pinocchio: I didn’t. They chopped me into firewood!

——-

It’s wrong to deceive people; that’s a given. What can you do, though, if your child has picked up the habit of telling fibs? A good place to start is recognising that experimenting with lies is all part of a child’s developmental process growing up. Of course, this doesn’t make it acceptable behaviour that should be ignored; no parent wants their child to become a liar. Therefore, understanding the process behind a lie could help teach children not to do it and encourage honest behaviour. So let’s have a look at that process, then we’ll see how to create a targeted story to teach children the benefits of telling the truth.

There are different types of lies and different reasons children tell those lies. You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that children tell lies mostly to get something they want or to get out of trouble. However, Dr Matthew Rouse, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute –  https://childmind.org highlights 5 other prevalent reasons why a child might lie:

  1. To test out new behaviour.
  2. To enhance self-esteem and gain approval.
  3. To get the focus off themselves.
  4. Speaking before they think.
  5. White lies to spare someone’s feelings.

I would really recommend checking out the article here for more information.

——–

To successfully teach a valuable lesson to a child, it is important to identify the motivation of the behaviour. That information will help us connect with the child and show them the consequences of their action, thus establishing the correct way to behave. That will be the basis for our story with a lesson.

I wrote in a previous post about Aesop’s fable ‘The boy who cried wolf’, and how the consequence of a gruesome death by a wild beast might not be the most relatable story to teach a child who has fibbed about completing his homework (Please note, I’m certainly not proposing a boycott on these older stories; they are still very valuable and important to tell children).

“The slippery slope that 
the first lie forces you on
 is a path best avoided.”

This article starts with a transcript from the animated Disney film Pinocchio. As Pinocchio tells one lie after another, his nose gets bigger and bigger. This is a great analogy of the consequences of lying:

One lie leads to another. And as those lies continue to get bigger, so does the consequences of those lies.

The Fairy tells Pinocchio, “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face”.

Yes, the slippery slope that the first lie forces you on is a path best avoided. The importance of honesty and truthfulness, and being someone to trust is a fundamental lesson to teach children. Here’s an experience of someone I knew as a child:

The young boy was taken to the opticians to have his eyes tested; he had been complaining about his vision. He had the necessary tests, but the results were not normal. There seemed to be something wrong. His answers to the test questions were not consistent, and he also complained about having headaches. He ended up going through a whole process of doctor’s appointments, hospital visits and brain scans only to finally admit that he’d been lying all along just because he wanted to wear glasses!

Of course, this type of behaviour needs the proper attention assigned to it, and in this case, the embarrassment of it all (the natural consequence) did a good job in teaching that lesson. Indeed, it would be of great benefit to consider more precisely why that lie was told in the first place and examine any insecurities the child may have. From my own personal experience, I have found that lies predicated on low self-esteem are some of the hardest lies to break free from.

——–

Let’s now look at creating a targeted story to compliment the process of teaching this important lesson.

First, we’ll consider the elements we need:

  • A specific reason why the child felt the need to lie. In the above true-life example, it was an attention motivated reason or to gain approval. We will use something similar. When creating a story like this, the motivation behind the action should be evident from the beginning. This gives the child a chance to develop a more appropriate way for the character to behave from the beginning.                * (see footnote)
  • The consequences of that lie. In this case, it has to be something that escalates and leads to more lies until everyone finds out. It should be obvious so that the child can see that it’s clearly wrong and that the consequences of the action, if continued, could lead to more severe consequences.
  • Then, as always, there has to be a clear discussion on how to correctly behave and show that honesty is always the better option.
 
*Young children often exaggerate the truth to impress the people around them. This isn’t always the child’s fault per se. Between the ages of 2-4, a child’s brain has not yet reached the developmental stage to understand where the truth ends, and the lie begins. One should be careful to notice the frequency of these tall tales, as it could lead to a habit. However, considering the child’s age is an important (and obvious) factor in the discipline.

——————————————————————————

Here’s an example of something you could try:

It had been a difficult weekend for Mary; she was feeling rather lonely. Mum and Dad had been busy looking after Mary’s baby brother because he wasn’t feeling very well.
Tomorrow was Monday and the start of the school week, but Mary didn’t feel like going to school. She hadn’t had the usual fun weekend because her parents’ were occupied with her brother. 
What could she do?
 
Mary had an idea. She’d say that she wasn’t feeling well either, even though it wasn’t true. Then she wouldn’t need to go to school, and she could spend time at home with Mum and Dad.
 
Dad came in to get Mary up for school early Monday morning. 
“I’m not feeling good. My tummy hurts”. Said Mary as she rubbed her tummy, showing where it hurt.
“I don’t think I can go to school”.
 
So Mary stayed at home and got to spend time with Mum, Dad and baby brother. It was working out just as Mary planned. She got to drink hot chocolate in bed, have lots of kisses and cuddles from her parents and all the love and attention she wanted. 
Tuesday morning, Dad came in to ask if she felt ok to go to school.
“Oh no, I have a headache now, and my tummy still hurts”. Lied Mary once again. She realised that the lie had worked the first time, and now she wanted more. She stayed at home all day again.
Wednesday, she said that her leg now hurt, and she still had a headache and an upset tummy. Some of her school friends brought her a get-well-soon card and some chocolate. That made Mary very happy. 
 
By Friday, she had a sore arm, bad leg, sore throat, headache and upset tummy. But she also had lots of cards and sweets and chocolates from her friends who missed her at school. 
Mary had had a whole week of love and attention and was now ready for a fun weekend. 
But Mum and Dad were worried about all Mary’s symptoms. This time, when her parents came into the room, they told Mary that they were taking her to the hospital! 
 
“The doctors will need to examine you at the hospital to see what the problem is”. Said, Mum. “Then we can get you some medicine so that you’ll get better”.
 
Mary’s tummy started to hurt for real now. But not because she was sick; no, this was a nervous knot in her stomach because she knew that she had been lying. Her face went red, and her hands got sweaty. What would she do? Should she tell her parent’s the truth now, or keep on lying until they go to the hospital and the doctor’s find out that she’s actually fine? 
Mary couldn’t take it anymore, and with tears in her eyes, she blurted out the truth to her parents. 
Mary had to explain to her parents all the lies she had told during the week. Then she had to explain to her teacher at school what had hapened, and then to her friends who had brought round gifts and cards for her. 
She didn’t like doing this at all, and she wished that she had never lied in the first place.
——————————————————————————
Some targeted questions you could ask after:
  • Why did Mary lie?
  • What could she have done instead of lying?
  • Do you think it was easy to admit the truth after? Why?
  • What are the consequences of lying?
  • What would you do in Mary’s situation?
It’s important to discuss the one specific issue with the child, and the examples you give should relate directly to the lesson you want to teach. In this story, there is one issue – lying. But there are reasons why that lie is told. This needs to be the focus.
 Sometimes, a story can have many issues. And the lesson you want to teach risks getting lost in the story if that is the case. I found this while doing research for this article. Many children’s stories about lying had another big issue which happens first – a child steals a book, and then lies about having took it, for example.
But then the two subjects of stealing and lying need to be dealt with. Sometimes this can be too much!
What stories do you like to use about lying? Do you have any reccomendations on how to deal with this subject?
I look forward to your comments.
Thanks for reading.
George

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