If you wish to keep your children on the straight and narrow, tell them stories that praise a character’s honesty instead of those that emphasise the negative repercussions of lying, says a study.
“The study shows that to promote moral behaviour such as honesty, emphasising the positive outcomes of honesty rather than the negative consequences of dishonesty is the key,” said Kang Lee from University of Toronto in Canada.
Stories have long been employed to instill moral and cultural values in young children.
To find out how effective the stories actually are, the researchers conducted an experiment with 268 children of age three to seven.
Each child played a game that required guessing the identity of a toy based on the sound it made and offered them temptation to peek while giving clear instruction to the contrary.
The researchers then examined the effects of “The Tortoise and the Hare”, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, “Pinocchio”, and “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” on the children’s honesty.
Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, only the apocryphal tale about a young George Washington seemed to inspire the kids to admit to peeking.
Children who heard the tale in which the future first president of the US is praised for confessing his transgression were three times more likely to tell the truth than their peers who heard other stories.
The study appeared in the journal Psychological Science.