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6 Smart Tips to Teach Kids about Honesty


As parents, we all want our kids to know what’s fair and demonstrate the true meaning of honesty and integrity. But how do we teach kids about honesty in a way that they’ll embody the integrity we want them to have? We have six tips to help you do just that.

Kids Know Right from Wrong from an Early Age

Most parents are surprised to learn that research shows their children know the difference between right and wrong before they reach the age of two. Do they have it all figured out by then? Certainly not.

Can you have a conversation with your toddler about right and wrong? As long as you keep expectations low. Nevertheless, most toddlers have some sense about what is right.

You might be thinking, that’s great news, and then ask yourself, “If that’s true, why is my three-year-old so selfish!” Even though they know right from wrong, they won’t develop the desire for things to be fair until they are seven or eight. That’s when their brain switches from purely self-preservation mode to connecting more with their peers.

The challenge that we face as coaches, guides, and mentors to our children is how to get them to demonstrate fairness, prioritize honesty, and value integrity in their words and actions. Helping our kids develop their moral compass is a monumental task, but we have some steps to help you along the way.

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How to Teach Kids about Honesty

While the path is not always easy, there are six simple things to help you teach kids about honesty. And like all things, when it comes to your kids, the earlier you start and more consistent you are, the faster your kids will learn and follow the behavior you want them to have.

1. Set Clear Rules and Be Consistent

Father and Son Fistbumping representing teaching kids about honesty

More than any other tip, this is probably the most important. When we set clear rules and are consistent in the expectations that our kids follow them, the better clarity they have.

Kids often start experimenting with lying as they get close to four-years-old. It’s a cognitive milestone in fact. You can give short, clear rules even at that tender age that lying is not acceptable. Establish rules that align with your family values and let your children know what is okay behavior and what is not.

To teach kids about honesty, it can be helpful to let them know they will never be punished for telling the truth. If they are afraid of telling you the truth for fear of punishment, they will certainly learn to conceal it.

If you can consistently follow through with calmly listening to their issues rather than reacting to them, they are much more likely to come to you with life’s more difficult and complicated situations as they get older.

2. Have Conversations. Don’t Give Lectures.

When teaching kids about honesty, have conversations not lectures.

Close your eyes and think about the last time a manager or even just a well-intentioned spouse started talking your ear off about a topic you were not interested in. You might remember two or three minutes of their 15-minute diatribe.

At some point, you likely tuned out of their lecture and started thinking, “How much longer will this take?” Lectures can be an effective way to share information to a group of people in an academic setting but probably are not the best way to teach kids about honesty.

Conversations are the best way to share, exchange, and truly engage with your kids. When kids are part of the conversation, not the recipient of a directive, they have the opportunity to ask questions, including “Why?” You can ask questions too, like “Can you help me understand what made you make that decision?” instead of the more common shouted response of “What were you thinking?!”

Calm conversations give us the opportunity to create a safe, soothing, and secure environment for our children to share what’s going on in their lives.

3. Share Stories Together

when teaching kids about honesty, share positive stories

There are many great children’s books about honesty that use stories to deliver a message and an opportunity for discussion. Quite often it’s easier to teach young children about an idea by reading about it rather than just talking.

Having a story to read over and over again gives young minds a chance to think about a specific situation and eventually extrapolate the lesson to their own lives. Ask questions about the characters’ intentions, their feelings, and the consequences they experienced as a result of their choices.

Older children are more capable of thinking about abstract ideas, but they’re also more likely to benefit from hearing your personal experiences. We all have stories related to lying and the consequences of doing so. Talk about those experiences and what it was like to make those tough choices.

Personal stories open the door for more conversations and chances to teach kids about honesty.

4. Catch Them Being Honest

when teaching kids about honesty, catch them being honest

When you know your child has faced a tough issue and you find they made the right choice, let them know how proud you are of their actions and thank them for making a good decision.

Acknowledge the struggle they might have gone through. If appropriate, ask them if they want to share anything about the experience. You can label their behavior as well (e.g.,”I can tell it’s hard for you to tell me what really happened. I appreciate you telling me the truth.”).

Be mindful of comparing their truthful choice to previous instances where they may not have had the courage to do so. It won’t help for them to believe you think they are normally dishonest.

Catching your kid being honest provides a foundation for continuing to make the right choice.


5. Discipline Calmly

When teaching kids about honesty, have conversations not lectures.

No matter how well things go with your kids, they will likely slip up. When that happens, remembering to discipline calmly is key to helping them learn from their mistake and maintaining the relationship you want to have with your child.

If your children learn that you explode with anger and punish them for telling you when they’ve messed up, they will learn to conceal their behavior even more to avoid your anger and punishment.

Our blog on how to stop yelling at your kids provides some good ideas on how to bring the temperature down in a potentially heated conversation so that the focus can be on finding a solution to the problem.

It’s also important to remember that the best time to teach kids about honesty is not when emotions are running high. You both need to be in a calm state to really hear each other and absorb the information.

6. Ask for Promises

When teaching kids about honesty, have conversations not lectures.

Honesty and trust are directly linked. A helpful tool to get your kids to model the values you want them to have when it comes to fairness, honesty, and integrity is to ask them for promises. Model for them the importance of keeping your word. Talk about when it’s hard to do so and why.

Quality Time Allows Your Kids to Gain Character

The best way to help our children demonstrate fairness, be honest, and live with integrity is to create a safe, secure, and engaging dialogue with them and use the six tips to teach kids about honesty. Through these tips, you’ll be talking, sharing, and demonstrating the traits you want your kids to have.

The more time you spend with them, the sooner they’ll demonstrate the character you want them to have. It’s not always easy, but it is always rewarding to see our children learn, grow, and mature. It’s one of the best rewards parents can receive.

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Rick Stephens

Rick Stephens is a co-founder of Raising Families. With 33 years of experience as a top-level executive at The Boeing Company and having raised four children of his own, he is able to support parents and grandparents by incorporating his knowledge of business, leadership, and complex systems into the family setting.

In his free time Rick enjoys road biking, scuba diving, visiting his grandkids, and generally trying to figure out which time zone he’s in this week. Read full bio >>