We all strive to raise our children to be respectable ‘honest people’ with strong character. We know that they see many examples of dishonesty in our society. Still, we’ll want to be able to believe our kids when they speak to us, we need to know that we can trust them – and trust depends upon our children telling us the truth. Raising children who are honest is key to that goal. Here are some really down-to-earth and seemingly practical strategies for fostering honesty in children:
1. LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD AND ASK QUESTIONS. Welcome your child’s thoughts and feelings. Make family time and dinnertime a chance for your child to grow her authentic voice.
2. SEEK TO UNDERSTAND. When you catch your child telling a lie, strive to hear his story. FIND OUT WHY YOUR CHILD IS FIBBING. This can be difficult when you’re first facing a search for the ‘why’, but it’s an important search. Many parents have found that using the sentence leading words – “Could it be that you ________?” Your query needs to be as non-judgmental as you can muster, and when the child learns that you want to help him/her find better ways to reach that end, you can discuss many important aspects of being honest. Try to grasp what fears led your child to believe that he could not tell the truth.
3. DISCUSS HONESTY. Talk about truth with your child. Use words and concepts he can understand. Invite him to think about what honesty means for trust and relationships. Welcome the truth when your kids come clean — even when you’re furious that they’ve flushed your cellphone or dented the car. “If you raise a child that telling you the truth is the right thing to do, and you respond to that in an appropriate way — whatever it is they tell you — then they’re going to keep telling you the truth. If a child tells the truth and they’re punished severely, that child isn’t going to be as comfortable telling the truth.
4. SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. This seems to be so obvious when you realize that your child is watching you all of the time to see how to become an adult. Remember: The best way to teach honesty is to be honest. Inspire and encourage your child to want to be honest. Harsh punishment or calling him a liar may make you feel better for a moment but likely will not change your child’s behavior. Acknowledge your words and behaviors. Let your child see you admit mistakes.
5. AVOID LABELS! Calling your child a ‘liar’ will probably bring forth a defensive and probably dishonest response. Separate the child from the assumed lie – “I don’t like lies, but I love you!”
6. DON’T ASK QUESTIONS WHEN YOU ALREADY KNOW THE ANSWER. If you do, you might be setting the child up to lie with one word. “Have you finished your homework?” when you know the homework is not done, will probably bring forth a ‘Yes’ answer and then the child may believe he/she needs to stay in that groove. Try this instead, “I’d really like to see your homework when you’re finished.” And, I really liked Mary’s statement if the child brings up a lie directly “That sounds like a story to me. You know, you won’t be in trouble for telling the truth.”
7. AT THE PROPER TIME, TEACH THE VALUE OF ‘LITTLE WHITE LIES’. When Grandma’s present is not age appropriate and is not valued, the child can learn to say, “Thanks for giving me a present, Grandma.” Your well-meaning white lies can teach your child to spin the truth. Strive to be honest, even if it means you’ll face difficult consequences.
8. TEACH YOUR CHILD THAT LYING DOESN’T WORK. Accidents will happen when children are active. It’s so easy to say, let’s see if we can fix that, or clean that up, or make restitution. And, let me emphasize the importance of using the pronoun ‘WE’ in your statement to the child, and then work together to Teach your child that lying doesn’t work. Give your child a way out – a way to make things right and the child will learn there’s no advantage in lying.
9. THANK THE CHILD FOR BEING HONEST-Acknowledging that it might not have been easy to admit they’ve done something wrong. Too often we don’t validate that, and just go to the punishment. Still, that doesn’t mean discipline falls by the wayside, either. Discuss potential consequences with the child, letting him or her brainstorm an appropriate punishment.Then you’re training them that there are consequences for their actions, and that goes much further into life.
10. ROLE PLAY. Young children love to role play, so parents can pretend, creating situations where they are dishonest and walking the child through the consequences of that choice. Ask them how they feel, Did it make them feel good when they were lied to?
Being honest is a lifelong enterprise that begins early. Use every opportunity to nurture and grow your child’s honesty. You’ll be happy and rewarded when your kids are thriving and that they are honest!
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