Muddy foot prints across the floor. Muddy footprints leading directly into my room, and ending squarely with my muddy shoes. Me, hiding in my room. Knowing that I was in trouble. Mom, calling, “Where are my kids.” All of us, dutifully reporting. Mom asking, “Who tracked the mud through the house?” All of us, including me, denying. “It wasn’t me, Mom.” That was the day I got in trouble twice. Once for tracking mud across the house. And once for lying.
This is a vivid memory. It happened when I was six or seven years old, but I still remember it to this day. This wasn’t the worse thing that I did as a kid. Tracking mud across the floor really wasn’t a big thing. But, this is the first memory that I have of lying. Of telling something that I KNEW wasn’t true to try to get out of trouble. I knew what the punishment was going to be for the mud. I didn’t really want to clean it all up. But, I received a FAR worse punishment. But worse than the punishment, was the feeling of disappointment.
Let’s talk about teaching kids the importance of honesty.
I was one of the lucky ones. I learned as a child that it was easier to tell the truth and to be honest. I gained a reputation of having impeccable honesty. This led to me being trusted with a lot of responsibility. As a senior in high school, I had keys to the school, I had keys to the light and sound equipment in the school, and I had keys to the basement of the the school. I had all of the network passwords. I had the admin login to the school district’s webpage. But, I would never do anything that I wasn’t supposed to with all of these items. I had shown that I could always be trusted.
This led to another event in my lifetime. I was working at a retail establishment. At this retail establishment, I had to check out customers. Most of the time, one employee worked on one drawer, but sometimes, because a manager wasn’t available or other circumstances, more than one of us ended up using a drawer before it was counted down. On one day, three of us had logged into a drawer. When the drawer was counted down at the end of the night, a considerable sum of money was missing. I was scared. I knew that I was going to be fired. My reputation was going to be tarnished, and all that I had worked for was going to be gone. But, during the next day’s reckoning, my manager made it very clear that he KNEW that it wasn’t me. We never did figure out what had happened to the money, but my integrity had cleared me of any wrong-doing.
How do we teach the importance of honesty?
First, we, as parents, need to be honest. We need to be honest with our kids. We need to be honest with our spouses. We need to show them that it is important to be honest by being honest. If we aren’t honest with them, then are we teaching them to be honest with us? What would happen if one of my kiddos saw me call in sick to work, and then saw me go out fishing? What would happen if I lied to one of their teachers for them?
Second, we need to reward honesty. If something gets broken or someone gets hurt, if my kiddos are honest with me, I’m much more apt to forgive the offense. We all make mistakes! I know that my kiddos make mistakes, and that’s okay. If my kiddo tells me what happens, I’m much more likely to not have a consequence for the child. Of course, sometimes there will still be a consequence. But, I will always have a double consequence if I find that a child has lied to me. One consequence for the action and another consequence for the lie. This way my children know that it is better to tell the truth the first time.
Third, we need to not set our children up to lie. If we know that a child made a mistake, don’t ask them if it was them. This just sets them up for failure. They can then believe that we don’t know, and lie about it. This sets up a power struggle between us and them. Just be honest with them and say what you know. “I know that you broke the lamp. Now, what are you going to do to fix it?” This takes away the opportunity for lying and sets up the child to take responsibility.
Fourth, we need to teach the consequences for lying. Talking to our kiddos about trust and what that entails is huge. If our children know that they will have rewards for telling the truth, they will be much more apt to tell the truth. If our children know that losing trust is a HUGE deal, and one that has large consequences, they will be more likely to tell the truth.
Fifth, we need to make our homes safe. Our children should know that we will listen to them and hear their side of the story. They need to know that they can tell us what happened. We need to listen to our children with level heads and understand not only what they did, but why they did it.
Honesty is so important. The trust that is gained is immeasurable. We need to make sure that we are teaching our children to be honest, and why it is important.