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Teaching Your Kids to Be Honest

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Teaching Your Kids to Be Honest

I’m sure you want your children to be honest—not to cheat, lie, sneak, cover up or steal. But what’s the best strategy to teach them to be truthful?

Some parents might believe it’s in a child’s nature to lie and it’s the parent’s job to punish dishonesty to prevent it from taking over. Actually parents often set their kids up to lie.

Here’s the mistake they make. They confront their kids accusingly with anger or threats. But if you’re harsh and punitive, they’re afraid to tell you the truth. If you make it safe for them, they will be honest. So be firm on honesty and gentle on your kids.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Let’s say you’ve discovered that your nine-year-old child shoplifted some candy at the grocery store. Let me give you two scenarios.


Mom: Where did you get that candy?

Child: I found it in my pocket.

Mom: Did you steal it from the store?

Child: No, I didn’t!

Mom: I think you did. Your sister just told me she saw you take it. And now you’re lying to me too.

Child: No, she’s lying. I didn’t take it.

Mom: Well, then where did you get it? Now you’re going to get punished twice—once for stealing and once for lying to me.


Mom: I see that you have some candy. But I didn’t buy that for you and your sister just told me that she saw you take it off the shelf when we were in the store.

Child: (Looks down)

Mom: I don’t believe in tattling, and I’ve told your sister that. But it’s also important not to steal. And it’s just as important that we don’t lie to each other. You know we’re a family that really values honesty. You trust me and I trust you.

Child: I didn’t mean to. It just happened.

Mom: I know, Honey. The temptation is so great. But I’m so proud of you for telling me the truth. That’s a hard thing to do and I appreciate it so much. Now, let’s get going back to the store. I’ll stand by your side while you return the candy.

In this first scenario the parent is pushing her child up against the wall—almost defying her to tell the truth. And in such a case, most people come out fighting, or denying, or lying—because it’s just too humiliating to be honest. In the second scenario, the parent takes the issue right off the table by already acknowledging that she knows the child took the candy. Now she can focus on the importance of honesty, talk about it as a family value, show that she understands—and still teach the lesson of honesty.

Next: Three tips to help your kids learn honesty

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Joanne Stern

Joanne Stern, PhD, is a psychotherapist with a private practice emphasizing counseling with families, parents, couples and teens. She’s a teacher, consultant, speaker, and expert guest on parenting and family topics, including communication, discipline, self-esteem, addictions, eating disorders, grief, and loss. Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life is her first book. A mother and grandmother, she and her husband, Terry Hale, live in Aspen, Colorado.


+ add your own
2:03PM PDT on Aug 20, 2012

Thanks,very good topic...

12:51AM PDT on May 15, 2012

Thanks for the info.

9:11AM PDT on May 14, 2012


4:43AM PDT on May 14, 2012

You can't tell your children to tell the truth and then in the next breath tell them "tattling" is bad. "Tattling" is telling the truth about what other people have done, possibly what they have done to your child. This is a vastly more important thing to learn than just telling the truth about their own actions, if you were going to teach just one or the other - but I really think both would be more sensible.

4:19AM PDT on May 14, 2012

thanks for sharing

10:02AM PDT on Mar 15, 2012

perhaps the real meaning, in part, of the sins of the fathers are passed on to the children when parents do not fully model honesty...

1:32AM PDT on Aug 9, 2011

Honesty is a basic trait for everyone.

7:24PM PDT on May 7, 2011


9:02AM PDT on Apr 18, 2011

My dad didn`t take too much care about my childhood.He was only thinking about his job(professor at the university)and my mum didn`t have too much time.While I was at age 12-14 yr old I had to learn from my mistakes.In some cases dad would do the punishment thing,but mum would stay by my side.I had to understand by myself what was bad and what not by looking at other kids behavior.They smoked,drinked alcohol,run away from school and I had a period doing that too.But one day I must say,like I understood(just like that)what to do.My dad wouldn`t give me support but I had a time talking to my mother and she did,she understood and she helped me to get on the right way.I wanted to success in life,and in school.I did :)

4:01PM PDT on Mar 25, 2011

I think there's more to it than that, but it's certainly important to make sure your kids feel safe telling the truth. If they only experience bad things from it, they will not want to do it!

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