Teaching the Virtues: Honesty
More Teaching Tips
By Mary Dixon Lebeau
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Setting a good example is the ideal first step in teaching honesty, but there are other steps you can take to reinforce your teaching. Our experts offered these practical ideas:
- Establish a “safety zone,” letting your child verbalize his feelings – even if they aren’t in line with your own. For example, if your child believes his teacher made a poor decision, allow him the freedom to tell you that he feels this – even if you disagree. That allows him the ability to speak freely without fear of your reaction.
- Play games that allow children to determine if something is true or false. Make sure you add moral dilemmas (such as, “If you find a dollar on the floor, you can keep it”) as well as statements of fact.
- Don’t set your child up. If you know your little girl ate the last piece of cake, don’t ask her if she did it – and tempt her to lie about it.
- Think before you joke around. Make sure your child can discern what you say in fun, and what is meant seriously. If there seems to be confusion, cut back on the joking and get to the point.
- Use stories to demonstrate the consequences of telling lies. Fables such as “The Boy Who Called Wolf” will keep the child interested while reinforcing this valuable lesson.
- Don’t label your child a liar. After all, self-fulfilling prophesy still prevails, and your child will often live up to your expectations. If your child lies, emphasize that you don’t like lies but you love her – and expect her to deal with you honestly.
- Praise your child’s honesty. Thank him for his truthfulness, especially in situations when it would have benefited him to lie.
- Explain the consequences of a lie. Your child may not understand how simple misdirection can lead to serious consequences. Also remind him how difficult it may be to live up to your lie in the future. It’s so much easier to remember – and live up to – the truth than to try to unweave the “tangled web” of deception.
And don’t forget that there’s a thin line between honesty and impolite behavior. This may be difficult to explain, but necessary. After all, when Aunt Martha asks if you liked her noodle casserole, you don’t want your little one blurting out, “It was the worst thing I ever ate.”
Maybe the best advice comes from Thumper, Bambi’s rabbit friend. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”