( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THERE is no reason why any child who is carefully trained should ever grow up untruthful; if he does, undoubtedly there has been some serious mistake to account for it. A little child, who is healthy, kindly treated, encouraged to be frank in speaking of everything to his parents, will naturally grow up more and more into perfect truthfulness. It is this belief which helps parents over the difficult places in the lives of their children when it seems as though they were inherently little liars; for sooner or later most parents have to face the fact that a child has not told the truth. Usually this comes with a shock, and too often brings a certain despair with it; if only one could accept it as a normal phase it would make things infinitely easier!
Ordinarily the child's imagination is at fault. He dreams so many little dreams and tells them as facts, that he is involved at once in difficulties and does not know how to explain. He hears grown people tell made-up stories, and he is expected to enjoy them, and does; yet when he tells a made-up story he is treated as a small criminal! To him it is bewildering. This is the place where a mother should be ready, not with punishment, but with understanding and a clear explanation. When the boy comes home from school and says! "I met a mad dog running down the street, and he chased me, and I ran as fast as I could and at last I got away," and the whole thing turns out to be false, she can easily recall the story of adventure she read him a week ago in which a hunter was chased by a lion and barely escaped with his life: that was all imagination, and so is his story, copied after it; he sees no difference. Such things are not untruthful in any wrong sense; they are merely flights of fancy. She will probably have some trouble in making him see why if a man in a book tells such things he may not, but after a time he will see, and will stop inventing adventures.
Nothing could be a greater wrong to a child than to punish him for telling such things. If he persists after he really under-stands that they are wrong and absurd, sometimes a little whole-some ridicule will break him of the habit; but in any case he will grow out of it in a short time. His playmates will usually laugh at him in such a way as to work a complete cure.
Dealing with Serious Falsehoods.-It is quite another matter when a child lies to gain an end; that is a really serious matter, never to be passed over. Any falseness, whether in word or action, especially one in which a reward comes for the effective lie, is one of the worst corrupters of character. The moment when a mother finds out that her child has been false in such a way as this, there should come some penalty never to be for-gotten.
This does not mean corporal punishment, although a pinch of quinine put on a little tongue is effective with a very small child; but it does mean that he must be talked to in such a solemn way of his wrong-doing, and have its result so put before him, that he can never forget it; and after this is done, there should be a punishment. If some one else has been involved, there must be a confession, no matter how humiliating. If no one knows, still there must be the acknowledgment of the wrong, and something to make the child remember not to do such a thing again. Perhaps a day alone will effect this; or he may be forbidden to speak to any other child for a day; or he may lose some coveted pleasure. At all events it is a moral crisis, and one to be faced by a parent with all the wisdom to be summoned.
The Cowardly Lie.-When the lie comes from still another source and is uttered in order to avoid a punishment, then the matter is even worse, for here it is the parent, not the child, who is principally to blame. If a father is so harsh as to make his boy afraid of him, then he must expect the child to lie to cover up a wrong, and if he does, it is really the parent who should be punished. Sometimes a timid child will lie unreason-ably, even when he knows the punishment for telling the truth will not be serious. But certainly the only help for such cases lies in moral suasion, never in the long run in corporal punishment; that only makes a bad matter worse. The child will lie to avoid the whipping, and lie to cover up the first lie; and day by day he will do this till he is confirmed in the habit
Sometimes, when after a while a parent wakes to this danger, he will say, "If you will only tell the truth you shall not be punished, but if you lie and I find it out you shall be"; and still the child lies; it is because the trouble is so deep-seated by this time that it seems ineradicable. Fear of punishment is a dangerous thing to use in any way.
It happens occasionally that a child will apparently tell a falsehood and suffer for it under some misapprehension. A little girl refused to tell where a certain key was which her mother was sure she had had. "Tell me the truth, tell just what you did with it," she was begged, and steadily she replied, "I don't know." It seemed not only a lie, but an obstinate one as well. Finally it was found that the key was really in a place where she could not possibly have put it or known its being, and then she exclaimed, "You see I could not tell the truth because I didn't know the truth!" One must be very certain that a child under-stands exactly what he has done that is wrong, and why, and the parent must be quite as certain that the facts of the case are all in, before going ahead to deal with the difficulty. It is a serious thing even to accuse a child who is naturally truthful of telling a falsehood; his whole being resents the accusation, and his self-respect suffers, even if no punishment is laid upon him.
Preventing Untruthfulness.--The best way to deal with lying in children is never to meet it; if the family life is open and frank, and if children have cause to believe in their parents' love and justice, they will seldom deliberately lie. Many a family of children grow up as truthful as the day, and fathers and mothers never have to face the terrible situation of realizing that a child has lied. Where the ideal of perfect openness is constantly held up, and one who even evades the truth is despised, boys and girls usually are truthful as a matter of course, or truthful except for some one fall by the way which they never repeat. Where parents never deceive, and questions are always answered with exactness, even with limitations as to extent, and where promises are kept, there a child is open in his ways and words.
It is in the breaking of promises that most parents fail in their own truthfulness and in their training of their children. One day a child was promised a drive, one he had long wanted and to which he had looked forward. At the last moment his father and mother decided not to take him and drove away alone, He looked after them and said scornfully, "There go two liars!" Probably never again in his life did he ever really trust their word as fully as before they broke it. To say that something is to be, or is not to be, is to give a pledge of one's own straightforwardness, and it must be kept, or the penalty paid of having one's children grow up untruthful.
Ideals of Truth.-One great aid in training children to speak the exact truth is to hold up before them the ideals of truth in others. When a father points out that some public man has told the thing that was so to his own injury, the boy admires him for it, and remembers it. A mother can read aloud to her children stories of good men who always spoke the truth, and can so fire them with admiration that they will try and be like them. The old way of threatening children with a penalty in future life for lying is not half as effective as the holding up before them the beauty of telling the "lovely white truth," and inspiring them to grow into it.