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Teaching Honesty to Your Kids

Three Ways To Teach Honesty to Your Kids

"I don't know who wrote on the wall." Sound familiar? Here are 3 ways to teach honesty to your kids:

1. True or Not True

A child needs to grasp the concept of "true" and "not true." Make up some questions that even preschoolers can understand, such as:

  • "A stop sign is red." – "True."
  • "Big Bird is pink." – "Not true."
  • Pick up a toy and say, "I don't have the toy." – "Not true."
  • Once it's clear that they know the difference, role play:

    "What if you took Tommy's toy and made him cry. How do you respond when Mom asks, 'What happened?'"

    Share stories like "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" to show the consequences of not being honest.

    2. Rewards and Reminders

    Your child will probably realize that by telling the truth, he is getting himself into trouble. "Kids are afraid to tell the truth because they want to avoid getting in trouble," says Dr. Cathryn Tobin, pediatrician and author of The Parent's Problem Solver (Three Rivers Press, June 2002). "Unfortunately, strong-arm tactics often result in the opposite from what parents expect." Tobin suggests rewarding your kids for telling the truth. If you catch them in a "tall tale," give a gentle reminder that you expect them to be honest.

    3. Like Parent, Like Child

    When children tell "little white lies," they may be modeling behavior that they see at home. "If the child hears the parent say, 'Oh tell him I'm not home' that becomes a dishonest statement – no matter what the reasons are," says Elise Edelson Katch, a Denver, Colo. therapist and author of The Get: A Spiritual Memoir of Divorce (Health Communications, September 2001). "This then becomes acceptable behavior for the child. The concept of 'a little white lie' does not compute for children."

    Elise Edelson Katch gives some suggestions for touchy social situations. Reviewing these scenarios with your children will help them be prepared to give polite and honest responses.

    Situation A:
    Your child receives a gift that he already has at home.

    Polite responses include:

  • "Thank you."
  • "That was nice of you."
  • "Thanks for thinking of me."
  • Situation B:
    Your child's friend has a new (but not so flattering) outfit and asks, "What do you think?"

    Polite responses include:

  • "I'm glad you like your new outfit."
  • "It's exciting to have a new outfit."
  • Have your child pick out part of the outfit that can be commented favorably upon.
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