Teaching Kids Honesty (page 2)

By — National Association of Social Workers
Updated on May 1, 2014

Teaching Honesty to Kids from Very Young Through Adolescence

Using words that the child can understand, explain what honesty means in your family. Then continue to remind the child:

  • “This is the way we do things in our family.”
  • “We tell the truth.”
  • “We do not take what is not ours.”
  • “If we have done something dishonest, we own up to it.”
  • “We tell the truth even when it is hard to do.”
  • “When you tell the truth people will respect you, and you will feel better about yourself.”
  • “I might not like what you have to tell me, and there might be a consequence, but I will respect you for telling the truth.”

For example, little Emily, 5 years old, wanted to use the special hand-wipes that her mother had put in a basket. She wanted a lot of them. Her mother noticed that Emily had her hand under her t-shirt and had a sheepish look on her face. “What are you doing, Em’?” Mother asked. “Nothing.” “Em’ please let me see what you have.” Mother gently removes the hand-wipes from under the t-shirt. “Emily, you do not have to take these when I am not looking. You can tell me if you want to use these. I may allow you to have only one at a time, but in our family we do not take things without asking permission. That is part of being honest.” If an older child does something like this, it is worth considering a simple consequence such as putting the hand-wipes back and organizing the basket. Refrain from attacking the child’s character. The parent might also consider what might be the function of the dishonest behavior. One such possibility would be to act out something that is bothering the child.

Special Considerations for Adolescents

All kids test. Teens test and try your patience. They sneak out, sneak cigarettes, hang with the wrong crowd, experiment with drugs and alcohol and engage in many other ingenious behaviors that might make the parent think all the lessons on honesty (and every other virtue) have been lost. The key advice is not to “freak out.” Keep your concern in perspective and refrain from shaming. Have well thought out consequences that the child is aware of and adhere to them. Predictability and consistency will help instill the values you want to impart. Follow through is very important. If dishonesty and acting out become chronic, seek professional help, as this may be indicative of a deeper problem that needs to be addressed.

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Bette J. Freedson, LICSW, LCSW, CGP is the author of the "Relax and Learn Seminars: Skills For All Seasons,” a repertoire of workshops based on the principles of effective stress management. In her work Ms. Freedson emphasizes the power of the mind/body connection to improve decision-making, increase effective coping, reduce time wasted in conflict, boost morale and productivity at work, and create greater harmony in relationships. Ms. Freedson practices clinical social work at The Listening Place in Lynn, Massachusetts. Besides maintaining an additional private practice in South Berwick, Maine, Bette is Social Work consultant to Maine School Administrative District #35.

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