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Teaching Your Kids to Be Honest

It takes a lot of courage to tell the truth—for anyone—at any age. It doesn’t always come naturally, so it’s a parent’s responsibility to teach a child to be brave enough to fess up. Like so many other characteristics you’d like your kids to have, this one depends a lot on you.

Here are three tips to help your kids learn honesty:

1. Talk with your children—beginning very early— about how much you value honesty in your family. Tell them how important it is to all of you that you can always count on each other to tell the truth—even when it’s difficult. If there’s not honesty between parents and children, there won’t be trust or closeness in your family either. When my two daughters were young, we focused on how honesty was the very backbone of our family. It formed the bedrock upon which our family relationships and mutual trust and respect were built. I told them explicitly that I would go out on a limb to support them, defend them, even fight for them. But if I ever found out they had lied to me, it would change the nature of our relationship dramatically. Once that trust was broken, it would take a long time to build it back.

2. Model honesty for your children—not only in your words but also in your lifestyle. You can’t expect them to tell you the truth if you’re not honest with them—even when they ask you an awkward question. Be brief and be age appropriate in your response, but if you lie to them when it’s embarrassing to tell the truth, you can’t expect them to blurt out the truth when it’s tough for them. Obviously, both parents and children have a right to a private life and you need to draw careful boundaries when sharing intimate details that are over their heads or too personal, issues of the past you are still struggling with or things that will just plain freak them out. But your goal should be to create an open environment where there are no secrets and everyone feels comfortable being truthful.

3. Let them know that you put more emphasis on their honesty than on the punishment for their dishonest behavior. Yes, you can impose consequences for their lie, but they need to know there’s a benefit for them in being honest. If you glide right over their courage in pouring out the truth and jump to a punishment, they won’t be quick to fess up the next time. My daughter told me once that she could tell me the truth because she didn’t fear me. She trusted that I’d be compassionate and not sneer at her, harshly criticize her or be unfair. If it’s still necessary to discipline after they’ve bravely spilled the beans, do it with respect, be tender with them and let them know how much you appreciate their honesty.

Everyone has the ability to be honest, but if you don’t practice it, both you and your kids may develop the habit of cutting corners, fudging and telling white lies—because it’s easier. As a parent you have the opportunity to help your kids develop the characteristic of being honest, but it has to be nurtured. Don’t lower your standards, but do understand that they might not be perfect every time. Fortunately, perfection isn’t one of our goals.

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Read more: Children, Do Good, Family, Teens, , , , , , , , , ,

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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.


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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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