I think it’s safe to say that we all want honest kids. Honesty is such an important part of life, affecting our relationships, our careers, and most of our general interactions. Understanding how to communicate our feelings and then listening to the feelings of those around us helps children understand the importance of honesty. None of us enjoy dealing with a dishonest person, and as parents, we really don’t enjoy dealing with dishonest children. So how do we teach our kids to be honest people?
Everybody does it
First, we have to be willing to face the fact that kids lie. It’s more widespread and natural than we expect it to be, but it’s really there. And it can start as early as age 2. So parents, let’s be willing to see that this is an issue for all of us.
Why do they lie? Well, they lie for the same reason anyone lies. They don’t want to get in trouble, or they want to sound bigger and more important. It can even be that they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. They lie to avoid an uncomfortable or difficult situation.
How to deal with it
The Journal of Experimental Psychology published a study showing that not only parents, but most adults in general, cannot predict any better than chance whether their own child or any other child is lying. So we can’t always tell, and it’s possible that we rarely even know, when our kids are lying.
That’s why it’s important to do more than catch them and correct them. This is, of course, part of how we teach them, but it cannot be the only method we use. And the way we correct them is important. Actually, there are several components to teach kids to be honest.
The most effective thing we can do to influence our children to be honest is to be honest people ourselves. Our kids learn more from what they see us do than from what we tell them to do. When they see us deal honestly with others, they learn the value of living this way. If they see us take the blame for something and handle it maturely and honestly, this speaks far more to them than our verbal teachings.
While it’s a big deal for your kids to see you deal honestly with others, it’s just as vital that they see you deal honestly with them. Let’s not make promises we cannot keep, or promise to reward good behavior just to get the good behavior. When we mess up, let’s be honest about it with our kids, apologize, and look for a way to make it up to them. Again, showing this kind of human respect to our children teaches them how to show this respect to other people. It creates a culture of honesty between you and your child. And a culture of honesty in your home will help honesty to become part of your child’s character.
Make it safe to tell the truth
When your child tells the truth about something terrible, it is easy to react negatively. “What were you thinking?” or “Why would you do that?” are often the first thoughts we have, and therefore they are the first words out of our mouths. But from our children’s perspectives, our negative reactions make it unsafe to be honest. Let’s work on slower responses, calmer responses, and loving, supportive responses. And don’t think that responding calmly and lovingly will support the poor behavior. To the contrary, a steady, dependable, safe, and honest relationship with a parent will help a child’s behavior. It will increase a child’s willingness to live according to a parent’s teaching.
Don’t give them an opportunity to lie
When we find something has gone wrong, we might ask, “Did you….?” While there is nothing inherently wrong with asking this direct question, it can set our kids up to lie. Most of the time, we can already see what happened and who did it, so it’s not necessary to demand, “Did you…?” The most likely answer from a frightened, caught-in-the-act child is going to be a self-protecting, “NO.”
So rather than asking the “Did you…?” question, we could simply say what we see has happened and offer a solution. For example, “I can see that we used our crayons on the wall. We’re going to have to figure out how to get these marks off the wall.” Or, “I can see that you ate a brownie. Now there won’t be enough for later. You’ll need to help me make more.”
These responses address the behavior and the need to make up for the results of the poor behavior. Avoiding the “Did you eat a brownie?” question saves you both from a lying situation that really was never necessary in the first place.
Work together on solutions
Another way to teach kids to be honest is to avoid the blaming game. Often we find a broken item, and apparently Mr. Nobody did it. When we have a problem that no one will confess to, we can involve everyone in the solution. Is there a mess from a broken item? Well, let’s get it cleaned up. Assign each person a way to help, even if it’s just to stand still. When we take away the advantage of being the one who didn’t do it, we make it safer for everyone to just ‘fess up.
We can help!
At My Signing Time, we have many videos about helping, manners, and friendship. These are character qualities that also influence respect and honesty. While our focus is to help children communicate well and to continue learning well because of this good foundation, we also know that character is important, and this is a big part of our programming too.