Teaching Honesty and Responsibility to Your Children

Teaching Honesty and Responsibility to Your Children
The best way to instill honesty and responsibility in children is to exhibit these qualities in your own actions.

Teaching honesty and responsibility takes a considerable amount of time and patience, and it isn't anything like teaching your kids how to tie their shoes, where they understand the basic concept after a few lessons. You'll have to keep hammering away at these lessons for a long time.

Can we be honest?
You teach honesty by encouraging your kids to tell the truth and to let you know what's on their minds. Having your children tell you what's on their minds shouldn't be a frightening thought.

When you've taken a toy away from your child because she was throwing it, you know she's going to be mad. Ask her how she feels. Tell her that it's okay to tell you whether she's mad, and let her know that you won't be angry. Then ask her why she's mad. This strategy teaches your kids that they can talk to you honestly without you getting upset or yelling. Your part in this business is that you must be prepared for this kind of input from your children.

A second way of encouraging honesty is avoiding confrontations in which telling a lie is made easy for your child. Instead of saying, "Simon, did you color on the wall?" say, "Simon, you know you're not suppose to color on the wall." Avoid direct confrontation when you already know the answer. Asking him if he colored on the walls, when you saw him do it, sets your child up to tell a lie. Don't put your kids in situations where fibbing is easier than telling the truth. Even as an adult, when someone asks whether you ate the last chocolate chip cookie, you get a little nervous — like maybe you did something wrong. Learn, however, to stick out your chest and proudly announce, "Yes! I ate the last cookie, and I must be honest, it was the best cookie out of the whole package."

Now, if Emily really didn't color on the wall, she can easily say, "But, Mom, I didn't color on the wall; it was Dad!" Figures.

The third and most important way of teaching honesty is being honest yourself. Don't ever lie to your children. You're setting an example. When you lie to your children, they'll think that it's okay to lie. But, on the other hand, when your children lie to you, you get mad. You can't have double standards.

Thinking that you'd never lie to your children is easy. However, you must be careful about unintentional lies (see Table 1): "I'll be back in just a few minutes" — and you're gone for several hours. These kinds of white lies can teach your kids not to trust you.

Table 1: Traditional White Lies

White lie Truth
"It's just medicine. It tastes good!" It tastes like lighter fluid.
"This won't hurt." Gestapo-approved torture tactic.
"I just have to grab one thing from the store." Two hours later, you own the store.
"We're going to Aunt Mildred's. We won't stay long." Any time at Aunt Mildred's is a long time.

The correct ways to make the intended statements represented by the white lies in Table 1 are:

  1. "The medicine helps to make you feel better."
  2. Not saying anything about pain is best. When you can't get away with that strategy, say, "This may not feel so good."
  3. Either grab your one thing and leave or say, "I have some shopping to do. I don't know how long it's going to take."
  4. "We're going to Aunt Mildred's. We'll leave by 11:30." Show your children on the clock what 11:30 looks like when they don't know.

Kidding and teasing can be fun. Everyone does it and thinks that it's a hoot. But be careful not to overdo the kidding with your kids. They don't have the knowledge and experience to determine what's a joke and what isn't, so they take everything you say to heart. When your kids get to the point where they follow everything that you say by asking, "Really?" then perhaps you ought to hold off on some of the joking until they start believing what you say without questioning it.