From the time they’re very young, kids are bombarded with messages about honesty. “Honesty is the best policy,” well-meaning people tell them.
But what do you do when your kids start experimenting with lying? How do you work through it when they start thinking that life would be easier if they cut a few corners?
In this article, we’ll go over a few simple ways to teach honesty to your kids so you can build a stronger character in them and a stronger relationship between you both.
Tips For Teaching Honesty To Kids
Teach them why honesty is important.
Truthfully, from a young age, kids are taught that honesty is important. But sometimes as parents we fail to communicate the “why” behind the things we teach them – especially things as simple as honesty.
But here’s the thing: Once they understand why something is important, they’ll be more likely to hold onto the lessons you teach them to instill certain values in their character.
So start by helping them understand that honesty is essential for forming and maintaining relationships. If you’re not honest with others, they won’t be able to trust you. And trust is an essential part of every healthy relationship, whether it’s with friends, family members, or romantic partners. Without trust, relationships are difficult, if not impossible, to maintain.
Honesty is also important for your own wellbeing. If you’re not honest with yourself, it can be difficult to manage your own emotions and behaviors. Honesty allows you to understand yourself better and makes it easier to cope with problems when they arise. Additionally, research has shown that people who are more honest tend to be happier than those who aren’t.
Teach honesty by leading by example.
One of the best ways to encourage honesty in kids is to lead by example. If you’re not honest with your child, they’re less likely to be honest with you (and vice versa).
Be honest about your thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative. Explain why it’s important to be truthful even when it’s difficult.
One of the best phrases you can say to your child is, “You know what, I’m going to be honest with you…” then tell them something that feels like insider information about how you’re feeling. For example, you might say, “You know, honestly, I don’t like that I have to go to work today. I say that it’s going to be a great day, but sometimes I don’t feel like it’s going to be. But then I remind myself that I’m fortunate to have a job and I get to have an incredible family to provide for. Then that gets my mind back into the game.”
They’ll learn that they live in a culture of honesty, and that’s more important than any lesson you can teach them.
Use teachable moments to show what honestly looks like.
You can also use teachable moments as an opportunity to talk about honesty with your kids. For example, if they see you being dishonest with someone else (e.g., exaggerating how much you paid for something), take a moment afterwards to discuss why that wasn’t a good choice and how you could have handled the situation differently.
This will make it easier to talk about situations when you catch them in a dishonest moment because you’ve already talked with them through one of yours.
I remember my daughter going through a phase when she was around 7 years old when she started lying about how much food she had eaten at dinner so she could get dessert. Our family would all eat at the dinner table, but my daughter always ate slower than everyone else. So while we were putting our plates away and cleaning up, she would “finish” dinner. Which usually meant she would either feed it to our dog or throw the rest away. Then she would come into the kitchen with the rest of us with an empty plate asking for dessert.
When I caught on to this, I called her out on it. Of course, she was embarrassed, but I didn’t condemn her. I simply asked what she was trying to accomplish by lying. She told me she really just wanted dessert, so I told her that if she was honest about what she ate – and promised to eat the amount we agreed she would eat – then she would get whatever dessert she wanted.
However, if we caught her lying about the food she ate, she would lose dessert for the whole week.
It seems simple, but that little compromise showed her that she could get what she wanted faster by being honest, and that reinforced a mindset of honesty.
Encourage open communication.
Kids (like adults) sometimes struggle with honesty because they’re afraid of disappointing or upsetting people. Help your child understand that it’s okay to be honest even when the truth isn’t pretty – in fact, it’s often more important in those situations. Encourage them to come to you with any questions or concerns they have, no matter what they might be about. Assure them that you won’t get mad and will always try to help solve any problems together.
For example, my son once got into a habit of telling us he was sick first thing in the morning and then being perfectly healthy by 9 am.
We found out through another parent that he didn’t want to ride the bus to school because he was getting picked on. Of course, he was ashamed to tell us, so we went to him and explained that he had nothing to feel bad about.
We had a good conversation with him about how bullies are usually insecure people who struggle with fear themselves, and that he could always come to us when he’s afraid. He ended up in a better place and better equipped to deal with the situation, but it was only because we didn’t run with the assumption that he was somehow doing something wrong.
Remember, kids need to feel that it’s okay to not be perfect, so start digging into the “why” behind the lie and give them a chance to see that they can be vulnerable.
Finally, make sure to praise your child whenever they demonstrate honesty in their words or actions. This positive reinforcement will encourage them to continue being truthful in the future.
In their minds, they’re going to have moments where they have to decide if it’s worth opening up to you. It’s a risk in their minds. But if they have a history of positive moments to pull from when you praised them for being honest – no matter how small it may seem to you – they’ll be more likely to open up and be honest in the future.
Remember: Reward the behavior you want repeated – and the best reward for a child is the praise of their parents.
Listen, we all want our children to grow up into happy and well-adjusted adults. And a big part of achieving that goal is teaching them how important honesty is both in personal relationships and in life in general.
By leading by example, taking advantage of teachable moments, encouraging open communication, and praising instances of honesty, we can help our kids learn this essential character trait!
Please note that this article is meant to provide general information about the effects of dishonesty and is not intended as psychological or medical advice. If you or your child are struggling with honesty in a way that feels harmful or overwhelming, please seek out professional help.