What Does 'Strong Character' Mean? -- Helping Your Child Become a Responsible Citizen (page 2)

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Feb 29, 2008

Honesty and Fairness

Simply put, honesty means being truthful with ourselves and with others. It means caring enough about others not to mislead them for personal benefit. It means facing up to our mistakes, even when we have to admit them to others or when they may get us into trouble.

Fairness means acting in a just way and making decisions, especially important ones, on the basis of evidence rather than prejudice. It means "playing by the rules" and standing up for the right of everyone to be treated equally and honestly.

To understand the importance of being honest and fair, children need to learn that living together in a family, community or even a nation depends on mutual trust. Without honesty and fairness, trusting each other becomes very difficult, and families—and societies—fall apart.

Words of caution: There is a big difference between being dishonest—lying or cheating—and "making things up," as children often do in fantasy play. If children are taught that not telling the truth is "a bad thing," some young children might assume that it is also a bad thing to pretend to be a princess or an astronaut. Although you should discourage your child from deliberately lying and cheating, you should also let him know that it is fine to role play and pretend.

What You Can Do

  • Be a model of honest relations with others.

  • Discuss with your child what honesty is and is not. Point out, for example, that being honest doesn't mean telling someone you think he looks ugly. Kindness goes along with honesty.

—Dad, Why can't I choose what video to watch? It is not fair that Ramon gets to pick?
—Yes, it is fair, because you got to pick the video we watched last night. Now it is Ramon's turn.
  • Discuss fairness (chances are that your child will bring it up) in different situations. For example, how do we show fairness in our family? What does fairness mean to the community? What were standards of fairness in the past?

  • Talk about how you try to be fair in your life and work. What issues of justice have you wrestled with? Your adolescent will be particularly interested in talking with you about these things.

—Mom, why did you tell the cashier that she'd given you too much change? It was her mistake, so why didn't you just keep it.
—Because the money wasn't mine, and it would have been dishonest for me to keep it.
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