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3 things you need to know about teaching honesty in your home

June 18, 2014

Parenting would be a lot easier if it were limited to feeding, diapering and keeping your kids out of harm’s way. Those are the basics, but parenting involves a lot more, and often the “more” is the hardest part.

How do you raise your children to become morally and ethically responsible?

How do you pass on the values you hold dear?

These are questions that conscientious parents will wrestle with and lose sleep over time and again, yet there’s no universal roadmap. We are all left to feel our way in the darkness as best we can. And before we can guide our children onto the right path, we must first know for ourselves what we value and why.

Over time, I’ve discovered that one of the things I value most is honesty. Thomas Jefferson once said that, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” I believe that’s accurate, and it’s taken me years to sort out what that means in my own life. Now, I’m working to sort out what it means in the lives of my children.

Here are a couple of things I’ve learned as I’ve thought about teaching honesty to my children:

Fear and shame are the reasons we lie

When it comes right down to it, we lie to protect ourselves. We know when we’ve done something wrong and we lie to to make sure that no one knows about it. Our children aren’t any different. They fear our anger and disappointment when their indiscretions are discovered. They’ll lie to avoid that feeling if they possibly can.

They need to know that even though there may be consequences for their behavior, we love them no matter what. They may have made a choice that we wish they hadn’t made, but they are still good and worthy in our eyes. We must create a safe place in which our children feel comfortable telling us the truth. Otherwise, the risk of telling a lie to cover up their misdeeds will always feel like a better solution.

Telling the truth is brave

Our kids need to know that there is something inherently valuable in telling the truth. It’s not easy to stand up and face the fear and shame of being found out, but they need to know that it’s worth it when you do. Tell them that you (and others) respect those who are brave enough to tell the truth. Not only that, but all of our relationships are built on trust. When you break the trust that someone has in you, your relationship will suffer. Help them see that being a good friend, daughter, student, sibling depends on their ability to trust and be trusted. Some of our greatest joys in life come from the relationships we forge with others, and dishonesty will ruin those relationships.

Your example is your most important tool

As in every area of parenting, our actions speak louder than our words.

We must show our children what we value by living it out every day. When you realize that your child inadvertently took something from the grocery store, take the time to go back inside and pay for the item. Explain that you value honesty, and as a family you choose to live according to those values. When your kid asks hard questions, be honest, even if the answers aren’t easy. They may not need to know all of the details of an adult topic, but they need to know above all that you are trustworthy. Tell them the truth on a level that they can understand. Don’t expect honesty from them, if honesty isn’t what you’ve given to them.

In the end, expect that none of us will do this one perfectly. It’s hard, and we make mistakes. Our kids will make mistakes, too. Give them grace when they’ve failed to be honest, but be sure they know that honesty is what you expect.