The Truth about Honesty: It’s important to lead by example

Face it, moms, raising kids just isn’t easy. And bringing up an honest kid can feel like a heck of a challenge at times … and that’s no lie! But of all the character traits I strive to instill in my children — compassion, generosity, kindness, forgiveness — honesty ranks highest on my list because it impacts every aspect of their lives, and, ultimately, shapes the person he or she will become in adulthood.

From the time my children were old enough to speak and follow simple directions, I began teaching them the importance of honesty. Never tell a lie … always tell the truth … these simple phrases we mothers use again and again in the course of a day have been part of my daily vocabulary for years. When my children were young, it was fairly easy to discern how my simple lessons were being absorbed: “Sweetie, did you hit your brother?” An affirmative, if guilt-ridden, nod meant I was doing a good job! A self-preserving denial (followed by hiding in the closet) usually meant I needed to spend a little more time on the subject.
As they have grown, honesty has become bigger than just admitting when they did something wrong. It impacts each decision they make, every word they speak and each action they take. Honesty is a choice they are free to choose or reject every day in many situations. Unlike those playroom squabbles where my constant presence ensured the honest path was chosen, my children now face these daily challenges on their own. And several situations this year have led me to understand that sometimes kids need the facts about being honest spelled out to them.

Now obviously, cheating on a test is dishonest. My kids had no problem with this general concept. But what about sharing an answer with a friend on homework? Checking out your neighbor’s paper to see if he has the same answer as you? Finishing up one little problem on your math homework that you forgot to do while grading the paper? These situations may seem trivial, but when it gets down to it, honest is honest. And anything else isn’t. The lesson here: If you are dishonest in the little things, in time, it becomes easier to be dishonest in the big things. Lying is not something with which you want to get comfortable.
The harmless “little white lie” also comes into play as kids get older. My youngest son was recently invited to a paintball party. He doesn’t like paintball and did not want to go. But instead of simply saying no thank you, he made up an excuse to “save face” with his friends so he wouldn’t look like a wimp. I understood his reasoning. However, it was dishonest. And later, I was forced to either collaborate the untruth with the other child’s parent or rat out my child for the lie. The moral here: Lies breed lies. One lie often leads to another, and eventually, you will get caught. Telling the truth the first time can save you a lot of stress, anxiety and worry.

It’s important for kids to understand that dishonesty can have very severe consequences. Right now, they may receive zeros on class assignments, detention or other school punishments, and may lose privileges at home. But most importantly, they can lose the trust of a parent, teacher or friend. Trust is earned and isn’t easily recovered when lost. Sometimes, telling the truth takes a lot of courage, especially when the truth can get one into trouble. But my kids know that the truth the first time around has much better consequences than getting caught in a lie. As they get older, the consequences of dishonesty become more severe. Dishonesty can get them kicked out of school. It can cost them a job. Dishonesty can damage a relationship, even ruin a marriage. Dishonesty can get them sent to jail. People suffer these consequences each and every day for dishonest behavior, and our children need to understand this. Grasping the importance of honesty in their day-to-day lives will help to ensure that our kids never have to face these types of dire consequences as adults.

Raising your child to be honest in word and deed is not simply a lesson to be learned by lecture. It is a lifestyle we as parents must model every day. There is no better example you can give to your children than to be honest with them and allow them to witness your being honest with others — even when it’s not the easy thing to do. But by modeling honest and trustworthy behavior, we teach our children that being a person of integrity is worth the honest effort!

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