My daughter is 6.5 years old and is starting to tell lies. How do I address this matter without getting too upset with her? How can I encourage and inspire her to be truthful always. She loves stories of Saints so maybe I could do something in that space? Any other ideas?
Thanks, Karan, for your question.
Sometimes children at that age may tell a lie to get out of a punishment or a chore, etc. There are many useful parental websites and articles on the topic, so you can do a search on “helping a child to tell the truth, age 6” and you will find many resources. But I will address this from a spiritual perspective.
My children are now grown, so I had to pause and think about how I handled this issue, and I recalled that I helped my children to love Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas from the inside. I didn’t simply tell them the rules, but instead I emphasized the power in the perfecting of the Yamas and Niyamas. For instance, Patanjali taught that the power of perfecting non-lying was that whatever you said must come true. I taught my children that Jesus had perfected non-lying even in a past life, and that is why he could raise a person from the dead, just by using his words. It had to happen. He had perfected non-lying, therefore, everything he said had to respond to his words.
You can see this quality at play in many places in the Autobiography of a Yogi, as well. Sometimes you see that one of the Masters was slow to give his promise about something because it had to manifest once he said it. The Masters needed to know that the devotee deserved that particular blessing, and had learned the appropriate lesson first.
So what about souls who have not yet perfected this quality? Teach the child that there is a power in their words, and in how they use those words. Please reflect on the words, below. Digest this passage down to points that are meaningful to your child’s current level of understanding.
Spiritual Power of Man’s Word
From Scientific Healing Affirmations, by Paramhansa Yogananda, c. 1925
Man’s word is Spirit in man. Words are sounds occasioned by the vibrations of thoughts. Thoughts are vibrations sent forth by the Ego or Soul. Every word that leaves your mouth ought to be potent with your genuine soul vibration. Words in most people are lifeless because they are automatically put forth into the ether, without being impregnated with soul force. Too much talking, exaggeration or falsehood used in connection with words is just like shooting bullets out of a toy gun, without the gunpowder. That is why the prayers or words of such people do not produce any desired definite change in the order of things. Every word you utter you must mean it, i.e., every word you put forth must represent not only Truth, but some of your realized soul force. Words without soul force are husks without the corn. Words that are saturated with sincerity, conviction, faith and intuition are just like highly explosive vibration bombs, which when let out, are sure to explode the rocks of difficulties and create the change desired. Avoid speaking unpleasant words, even though they are true. Words must be intoned according to the convictions within. Sincere words or affirmations repeated understandingly, feelingly and willingly are sure to move the Omnipresent Cosmic Vibratory Force and render you aid in your difficulty. Only appeal to that Force with infinite confidence, casting out all doubt and the spirit of looking for the desired result. If you don’t do this, your appealing attention is deflected and side-tracked from its objective mark. Besides you cannot sow the vibratory prayer seed in the soil of Cosmic Consciousness and then pick it out every minute to see if it has germinated into the desired result or not….”
How to Proceed?
For right now, I would emphasize helping your child to learn this one quality of perfecting non-lying, which is how Patanjali referred to it. He did not phrase it as perfecting telling the truth. The reason for this is that sometimes the truth is painful and unnecessary. That is why Paramhansa Yogananda says, above, Avoid speaking unpleasant words, even though they are true. Some people obviously need that reminder.
However, children love to ask questions, and they will ask if it is ever okay to tell a lie, such as if someone is in danger. In such cases, it is good to remember that it says in the Indian scriptures, “When a lower dharma conflicts with a higher, it ceases to be a dharma.” This may be too fine a point for a child who is embarking on learning to tell the truth. I only mention it in case you have a very clever child who asks you this question, although it may not come up until a later age.
Swami Kriyananda told a story about a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda . This man taught yoga and meditation in communist East Germany, back when teaching anything religious was illegal and could lead to a severe prison sentence. This man taught out of compassion for others, but he had to be very secretive about it. People only found about him by very discreet whispers. One day a man knocked on his door, posing as a student seeking to learn meditation. The teacher wanted to help the man if he was sincere, but he did not want to step into a trap. He silently prayed to Yogananda, asking for guidance. Immediately Yogananda appeared behind the stranger at the door, shaking his head “no” and then disappeared. The yoga teacher feigned ignorance, denied teaching such things. and told the man that he could not help him and that the man must have the wrong address. In a perfect scenario, one might even find a way to communicate that without actually lying. However, staying alive and free, and thus able to teach sincere devotees was the higher dharma in this case.
In a child’s life, this principle would probably only occur if an adult with evil intent was trying to take advantage of a child in some manner. Let’s hope and pray that your child is never in such a situation. I am only going into all of this because once we teach a child the moral of telling the truth, they need to know that there are indeed exceptions to that rule.
To begin instilling an appreciation in the power of words, you can teach a child simple affirmations that are compelling to some need in his or her life right now. You can simplify affirmations from the books by Paramhansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda. An easier approach, however, would be to download and print out this free ebook, Life’s Little Secrets for Children, by Swami Kriyananda. I wrote an afterword to the book to give parents tips on how to best use this book. It will help you to instill many helpful values in your child’s life.
Another helpful free ebook is Prayer Demands for Children, by Paramhansa Yogananda.
I hope this helps. Please stay in touch if I can be of further help.