The first strategy in training students to tell that truth is to confront the truth. In this post, we will focus on three methods for confronting the truth—state the obvious, redirect questions, and focus on feelings.
State the Obvious
Stating the obvious is the first technique. For example, the teacher observes Johnny taking one of Susie’s pencils out of her pencil box. She confronts him with this question, “Did you take Susie’s pencil?” and Johnny says, “No.” Do not say, “You know that you are lying.” This response sends the message to Johnny that he is a liar. Unfortunately, the more he hears and thinks this, the more likely he will lie and the more rejection he will experience.
Instead, state the observation, “I saw you take the pencil out of Susie’s pencil box.” Rather than setting Johnny up to lie, one might ask, “Johnny, tell me what you know about the pencil that is missing from Susie’s pencil box.” This response allows Johnny to think a moment. Moreover, as he is thinking, there is time to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to Johnny’s spirit-man or for his conscience to be activated.
If Johnny does not tell the truth, ask him to repeat his lie remark. Say, “Will you tell me that again?” A student who lies will usually not repeat the story the same way a second time.
If Johnny says that he took the pencil, point out his honest statement. Say, “Johnny, I asked if you knew anything about Susie’s missing pencil, and you told me that you took it. You are very honest; I appreciate you telling me the truth.” It is vital to attach honesty to specific behavior. Often, teachers fall into the trap of praising a student for good behavior but fail to connect the praise to the behavior. Rather than only saying, “Good job,” say, “Good job in answering all the questions correctly.” “Good job for . . ..” If Johnny decides to lie about it, remind him that lying is not typical of him: “Why Johnny, I am surprised. Usually, you are very good at telling the truth. Remember when . . . (point out a situation where he told you the truth).” Before the habitual lying can stop, Johnny must believe that he is an honest person.19 Stating the obvious helps this belief.
Another strategy in teaching honesty to students is to deal with the reasons “why” students are dishonest; do this by redirecting questions. For example, the 5th grade STEM lab teacher expects students to put all their STEM items back in their respective containers. Do not set the student up to tell a lie, especially when the teacher notices that they have not done what she requested. Rather than asking: “Johnny, did you put your STEM kit away?” ask, “Johnny, what are your plans for putting your STEM kit away?” If Johnny has not even entertained the idea of putting his kit away, he can save face or avoid embarrassment by focusing on a plan of action instead of lying about it. Students need to know that when one uses the equipment, one puts things away at the end of their use.
Focus on Feelings
Focusing on the student’s feelings rather than on the lie is another approach in training truthfulness. For example, if Johnny lies to the teacher about putting his STEM project away, rather than calling him out for the lie, try, “Based on what I see, your answer does not seem right to me. I wonder why you did not tell me the truth. Let us take a second to talk about that.” Once Johnny tells you why he needed to lie, explain how lying hurts relationships because it causes mistrust, and trust is tough to earn. Ask Johnny what he could have done differently. Focusing on feelings will result in a greater likelihood of getting an honest answer the next time.
In our next post, we will present two methods for reinforcing truth-telling