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.
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, and can you have a conversation with your toddler about right and wrong? The answer is no. But most toddlers have a good 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.
The challenge that we all have is how best to get our children to demonstrate fairness, honesty, and integrity in their words and actions, so they have the moral compass and intelligence we want and hope they will have.
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 with consistency in how you approach things, the faster your kids will learn and follow the behavior you want them to have.
1. Set Clear Rules and Be Consistent.
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. The official rule book for Major League Baseball is 192 pages long. We’re not talking about that! We’re talking about how you do things around the house and the rules you follow every day.
For example, when your baby needs their diaper changed, you change it. When your baby is hungry, you feed them. You get them dressed. They see and know what you do, and they respond accordingly as you take care of them. As they get older, you set the expectation and help model for them, putting away toys and keeping the house in order. These are simple, easy examples of setting rules and being consistent about following them.
2. Have Conversations. Don’t Give Lectures.
Pause and recall being in a classroom setting where you had to listen to someone speak for 15 minutes. How much of what they said did you remember? I would suspect, it might be two or three things at most. And, at what point did you tune out of the lecture and start thinking, “How much longer will this take?” Lectures can be an effective way to share information to a group of people 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?” And, since conversations can happen just about anywhere, use them and enjoy the opportunity to create a safe, soothing, and secure environment for your child.
From the time they are born, kids love stories. They love it when we read to them, whether they can read yet or not. They follow along and know the story plot, and they know the characters and the settings. There are a number of great children’s books about honesty that use stories to deliver a message and an opportunity for discussion.
As your kids get older, you can create your own stories around the circumstances that your kids face. No doubt, you also have circumstances you faced growing up that you can share with your kids. The more personal it is, the better as you open the door for more conversations.
4. Catch Them Being Honest.
The reality is that our kids really do know what’s right and wrong. The challenge everyone deals with is what to do when faced with a difficult choice, particularly those that have potentially negative implications. When you know your kids face a tough issue and you find they made the “right” choice, let them know how proud you are of their actions. Catching your kid being honest provides a foundation for continuing to make the “right” choice.
5. Discipline Calmly.
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. Our blog on how to stop yelling at your kids provides some good ideas on how to “bring the temperature down” so that the focus can be about the issue and the opportunity to share a story and have a conversation. Further, if their actions require consequences, the impact will be much better understood.
6. Ask for Promises.
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. Making and following through on commitments and promises with your kids is a great modeling tool. What you do, they will do. Remember to talk about them to get the promise established and then check in with them to see how they are doing.
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 our kids 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 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 >>