Orthodox America

  Instilling Truthfulness in Children

Have great care of your children. We live at a time when much freedom is given to the expression of thought, but little care is taken that thoughts should be founded on truth. Teach them to love truth.      --St. Macarius of Optina


By New Martyr Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev

AMONG THE virtues which must be instilled in a child's heart with special persistence, an important and fundamental place belongs to truthfulness, that is to say, a feeling of love for truth and an aversion towards falsehood.

      After obedience, this virtue should be given second place. If falsehood is the root of all sin, truth is the beginning and foundation for nearly all virtues, and for this reason parents must direct their attention primarily at nurturing truthfulness in children. How? 

      Children ask about everything, and they accept whatever an adult tells them as the plain truth, until they are deceived. An innocent, unspoiled ,child knows nothing about lying and hypocrisy; on the contrary, he blushes with shame not only when he involuntarily tells a lie, but even when he hears it from others. God Himself instilled a sense of truth in children's hearts. It remains only to preserve this natural intuition, to develop it further and strengthen it. This task is primarily the duty of parents, they can accomplish it in two ways: first, by instilling in their children, from the cradle, a deep respect and love for truth, and, second, by developing in them a profound hatred and aversion to all falsehood.

      In the first case, one should be guided by three principal rules:

      a) Teach your children to love truth on a religious basis, out of love for God and obedience to Him. Children should love truth because God Who is eternal and immutable truth--desires that we, too, speak the truth, and because He despises all falsehood. Love for truth will endure only if it is founded on faith in God, on a profound reverence towards Him.

      b) Treat your children with absolute frankness and sincerity, and show that you have complete trust in them. Believe their word until you become aware of some falsehood. Don't demand that they confirm their words with an oath or swear to the truth of what they have said; in communicating, "let your yea be yea, and your nay be nay" as it says in the Gospel, and be satisfied with this. If, however, you have sufficient reason to doubt their words, the first time this occurs don't let them notice that you don't believe them. Try to find out for sure whether or not they lied. If this indeed is the case, then father or mother should call the child and seriously and sternly, but with love, look him in the eyes and say: "God forbids lying; He is all-knowing and knows not only our deeds but all our secret thoughts; a lying tongue is hateful to God." And the blush of shame which will appear on the child's face will force him to admit to the lie and serve as a lesson for the future.

      c) As parents, you should demonstrate to your children a love for truth and reverence for it; be honest and un-hypocritical in all your words and deeds. Above all, show yourselves to be friends of divine truth, religion and faith. Beware of indifference towards faith and be especially careful not to give the impression that one's personal life is independent of faith. If you allow yourself to express such thoughts in the presence of your children, you not only wrench from their hearts the love and reverence for religious truth, you kill all feeling for truth. If, in fact, it didn't, matter to God whether we had a true or a false understanding of Him .and, of His Creation whether we confess a true or false religion, then why should a person care about truth in ordinary matters? And if a person who willingly becomes captivated by a false religion and repudiates the revelation of the infallible God were just as pleasing to God as one who confesses the true faith, then why should truth be so highly esteemed? Finally, if those who claim there is no divinely revealed religion are correct, and if the true God did not consider it worthwhile to reveal to us truth in respect to the most important questions of life, then how could one require a man--all the more a child--to be truthful in matters of less importance? This is why, Christian parents, if you want your children to love truth, you must plant in them first of all a love and respect for divine truth. Keep your hearts and the hearts of your children from indifference to religious matters. If children notice that you have a lukewarm attitude towards religious truths, that you don't believe the word of God, can you expect them not to adopt the same attitude towards truth? You should, therefore, show a love for religious truth yourselves, and nurture this within your children.

      In other aspects of your life you should be likewise truthful and honest. Avoid all falsehood, pretense, and hypocrisy in your relationships with others. If your children see that you allow pretense in your dealing with others, that you succumb to cunning and ruses, hypocrisy and craftiness, if they notice that in your relations with important people you feign friendship while scorning them behind their back, your children will soon be doing the same. If, on the other hand, you show an aversion to falsehood and hypocrisy, to flattery and craftiness, then your children will bear truth in their hearts and will not have lying and cunning on their tongues (Ps. 14:3). 

    In nurturing love and reverence for the truth, you must at the same time constantly battle against lying and falsehood. To achieve this goal, the following four rules might be helpful.

      a) Teach your children to despise lying for religious reasons, drawing their attention to God. Your children should avoid lying not out of fear of being punished if caught, but out of awareness that God forbids lying, that every lie is a sin. Show your children how offensive lying is to the all-righteous God by using examples from Scripture. For example: Lying lips are an abomination before the Lord,(Prov. 12:2~2). Impress upon them that lying was invented by the .devil, when he first deceived Adam and Eve in paradise, wherefore the Saviour Himself says: he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), and therefore those children who lie are imitating Satan and become like him.

       b) Don't allow your children the smallest lie. If the child makes a mistake and straightway, willingly and frankly admits it, forgive him the first time or, if it was a significant lie, lighten the punishment, but tell him that he was granted an indulgence because of his quick admission. At the same time, don't be overly lenient so as not to give the child, if he has a tendency to lie, opportunity to take advantage of it. If, on the other hand, the child did something wrong and denies it, he should be doubly punished; tell him, 'This is for the wrongdoing, and this is added for the lie.' If a child out of revenge or malice says something bad about someone, i.e., slanders him, he should not only be given the usual punishment, but he must also be made to admit his slander in front of all who heard it. Christian moral law requires this.

       c) Never lie or deceive. Do not tolerate older brothers, sisters, servants, etc. to deceive younger children. It often happens that in order to quiet a crying child or calm him down, people resort to deceit: either they frighten him or make various promises which they never keep. This is very harmful! The youngster soon notices that he is being deceived, and his trust in what his parents say and his sense of truth suffers and wavers.

      d) Don't force your children to lie, whether intentionally or unintentionally. For example, when father or mother, for some reason, sternly and angrily, or even with a rod in hand, approaches the child, saying, "Who did this!" or, 'I’ll beat you if you did this!" etc. Is it any wonder if the intimidated child should lie? And what can one say of parents who laugh at their children's lies, who even praise them for being able to lie so cleverly? Or what is one to think of those parents who even teach their children to lie, helping them to deceive, for example, their superiors or teachers, to weasel out of a difficult situation and avoid getting caught? Such parents, if they are still worthy of being called such, are tempters of their own children. Is it any wonder if later these children swear and deceive and steal? Experience shows that he who thinks little of lying, will not hesitate to steal and deceive. 

     Here, then, are rules which can be helpful in instilling in children a feeling of love and respect for truth on the one hand, and, on the other, a profound aversion and hatred for falsehood! Teach your children to love truth primarily out of love for God. Always treat them with openness and trust. Give an example by your own love for truth, in all your words and deeds. Impress upon them how despicable and odious falsehood is in the eyes of God. Don't stand for even the slightest falsehood from your children, and don't deceive them yourself or allow others to deceive them. Finally, be careful not to incline them, intentionally or unintentionally, to lie.

(Translated, and slightly abridged, from Russkiy Pastyr, No. 6. 1990; originally printed in Golos Tserkvi, Nos. 7-8, 1914) 

"But, but you gave me your word of honor,' Alyosha said, trembling all over.

      Beliayev waved his hand at him and went on walking up and down. He was absorbed in his insult, and now, as before, he did not notice the presence of the boy. He, a big serious man, had nothing to do with boys. And Alyosha sat down in a corner and in terror told Sonya how he had been deceived. He trembled, stammered, wept. This was the first time in his life that he had been set, roughly, face to face with a lie. He had never known before that in this world, besides sweet pears and cakes and expensive watches, there exist many other things which have no name in children's language. Anton' Chekhov, "A Trifling Occurrence"