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Teaching Your Kids: Tell the Truth

Natalia Zinser learned the painful consequences of not telling the truth at the age of three. But it wasn't the sting of her father's hand when she was caught that hurt. In fact, she never got caught at all. And it turns out that cost her far more dearly than if she had.

Natalia was born and raised in Russia. Both her parents worked during the week. So in the summer months, when she was out of school, Natalia spent her days at her grandparents' house. And, I'm not sure why kids are so fascinated with putting foreign objects in their nose. But they are. And Natalia was no different. So, at some point that summer, she managed to lodge a single peanut an impressive distance up to one of her nostrils.

Well, after a few unsuccessful attempts to remove it, Natalia knew she needed to tell her parents. But she also suspected she'd get in trouble for it. So she did what most three-year-olds do when they've done something wrong. She blamed someone else.

She made up an elaborate story about how the little girl who lived next door to her grandparents had actually shoved the peanut up her nose. But since the peanut wasn't visible, her parents assumed she had made up the entire story and quickly forgot about it.

Well, two months later, while Natalia was sleeping, perhaps with her head at just the right angle, her mother noticed something lodged up in her nose. The peanut! So, after a quick trip to the doctor's office, the peanut was out. But that's where the real drama started.

Now her parents realized that their daughter hadn't made up the story about the peanut at all. That meant the part about the little girl next door being responsible was probably also true. So, Natalia's parents called her grandparents. Her grandparents then dutifully confronted the little girl and her parents. And you can imagine the he-said-she-said arguments and accusations that followed that. The little girl, of course, denied the whole thing, because it wasn't true. And as you might expect, her parents staunchly defended her honor, while Natalia's parents and grandparents stood firmly behind Natalia's story.

Well, the talks ended in a stalemate, with no official punishment handed out on either side. But the real consequence was this: The parents of the girl next door never let their daughter play with Natalia again. After all, what parents would want their daughter playing with another child who had lied so brazenly about their little angel? Natalia lost that playmate for the rest of that summer and every summer thereafter. In fact, it would be more than a decade before the two girls even spoke to each other again.

You know, making up a lie to avoid disappointing her parents, or maybe even a spanking, seemed like a good idea at the time. But if she had known the ultimate cost of that lie—losing a friend and playmate for the rest of her childhood—even a three-year-old might have made a different decision.

The lesson for your child is this: Lying destroys trust, ruins friendships, and can even destroy families. They should avoid it at all costs. And to help them appreciate that, share this story with them, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. What do you think would have happened to Natalia if she'd just told her parents the truth to begin with, that she put the peanut in her own nose?

  2. How do you think Natalia's friend next door felt when she heard that Natalia had accused her of putting the peanut in her nose? How do you think her parents felt?

  3. Have you ever been tempted to blame something you did on someone else?

  4. Can you think of a situation where it might be appropriate to say something that isn't true?

Okay, in the next lesson, we'll talk about keeping your promises.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith