Teaching Honesty

Teaching children about honesty is an important and ongoing lesson. Honesty is the backbone for having healthy relationships in all facets of life. Sometimes, children don't understand the fine lines between the truth, lies, and the world of make-believe. Here are steps that parents can take to instill the virtue of honesty in their children:

Make it clear

Children are often motivated to lie as a way to avoid getting in trouble. Parents should take the time to explain to their children what the difference is between a truth and a lie and why the latter is wrong. Also, parents should explain how telling stories falls into the mix since that genre exists in a gray area between truth telling and lying. Teach children that in order to be trusted and to trust others they need to be honest.

Create Safe Space

Children, like all people, are bound to make mistakes. They might break an antique, drag mud into the house, or fail a test. Parents should not want their children to be so fearful of their reactions that they lie in order to avoid it. The goal is to make home a safe space that will encourage a child to choose honesty over lying without the threat of harsh negative consequences. Every cause has an effect so their behavior should not go unnoticed, but if parents feel their children need to be punished then explain how the punishment fits the crime.

Praise the Truth

If you, as a parent, know your child is being honest about an action or event that was difficult for him to share, verbally recognize his bravery and your pride in his honesty. Hug him and thank him for practicing a good virtue.

Alternately, if you catch your child in a lie then talk to him about why he lied. Play out the scenario to discuss what would have happened if he had told the truth. Ask him how he can right his wrong by apologizing, if necessary, or making reparation.

Lead by Example

Attention parents: practice what you preach. Your child will only learn honesty if you are honest. If you lie then he will think that lying is acceptable. If your child asks you a question that you cannot answer for any number of reasons then rationally explain why. You want to avoid the perception that you're evading the truth since that is precisely what you don't want him to do.

Here is an idea to help jump-start a discussion about this virtue with kids:

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Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big by Berke Breathed

This is an exceptionally fun book. The author is known for his cartoons, Opus and Bill the Cat. This is done in the same style. Edwurd loves to tell lies. His sister wishes he’d notice her, and when she saves him from getting in big trouble he learns to appreciate her. Of course, he still gets a time-out.

Third Grade Baby by Jenny Meyerhoff

Polly fibs at school about a visit from the tooth fairy and then has to deal with the consequences.

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto

Maria tries on her mother's wedding ring while helping make tamales for a Christmas family get-together. Panic ensues when, hours later, she realizes the ring is missing.

The Adventures of Pinocchio by C. Collodi

The adventures of a talking wooden marionette whose nose grew whenever he told a lie.

The Empty Pot by Demi

When Ping admits that he is the only child in China unable to grow a flower from the seeds distributed by the Emperor, he is rewarded for his honesty.