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Teaching Our Kids to Be Polite Without Teaching Them to Lie

One of my kids is brutally honest. One can charm your socks off with a string of lies. One is too afraid to speak, but that’s a problem for another day.

Let’s focus on the two that talk too much.

My four and a half year old can be terribly offensive. She doesn’t guard her opinions because we’ve never taught her that opinions are bad. They’re NOT bad, but they don’t always need to be spoken.

The hardest part of teaching her this lesson has been making sure she doesn’t think we’re saying, “Hide the truth so that people aren’t sad.” Kids connect dots in the most basic ways, and that’s often the line they draw in this idea.

A few days ago, we went to a restaurant with friends after church. When one of our friends sat down next to her at the table, she said, “I don’t want you to sit here.”

Cue the embarrassed mom with the red face.

I almost instinctively said, “Don’t be rude!” but I caught myself before I said it. Was it rude for her to be honest in her opinion? Sure, she could’ve said it with a little more tact, but for a four year old, it could’ve been a lot worse.

So I let it go and waited to see how my friend handled it. Thankfully, she knows my kids well enough to not take it personally.

This type of blurting out her opinions happens A LOT, and it embarrasses me OFTEN. Even if I genuinely don’t believe she’s done anything wrong, I know that society thinks she’s done something wrong, so I feel embarrassed against my will. It’s a hard line to walk as a parent.

So that’s kid 1.

Kid 2 is the charmer. She will tell you that you’re the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen and that your jokes are the funniest ever told. She’ll compliment your shoes, tell you she prefers your face without makeup, and gush over your singing voice.

Problem is, most of the time she’s lying. She came from an abusive past (she’s not biologically ours) and has learned to flatter people to get them to like her. And by getting people to like her, she will never be abandoned. It’s a great plan.

But the lying is wrong, and I want her to know that people might actually like her just as herself. I also want her to know that she can ask for what she needs and that I will give it to her, even if I don’t like her in that moment.

I don’t want to take away the skills she’s developed to protect herself when she needs to, but I do want to give her another option so that she can use it when she isn’t in a threatening situation.

So where is the line between these two opposing behaviors? How do I teach them both that lying is wrong but honesty needs to be shared carefully?

If you’re looking for the answer to this because you’ve been asking yourself the same question, I honestly don’t have it. I’d love to hear any advice you guys have because I’m at a bit of a loss.

Every time I think I’ve figured out what to say, it comes out sounding like I’m telling them that protecting people’s feelings is more important than the truth.

Let me know any thoughts you have! Parents who’ve gone before me, share your wisdom.


Hopefully awaiting your advice,


Teaching Our Kids to Be Polite Without Teaching Them to Lie

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2019). Teaching Our Kids to Be Polite Without Teaching Them to Lie. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 27 Feb 2019
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