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Everyday Grace: Raising honest kids in a dishonest world (Part I)
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the Aug. 1, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
“She lies about what happened, even when we witnessed the whole thing.” Janice shakes her head, describing her nine-year-old daughter’s refusal to tell the truth.
“We saw her hit her brother, but she says, ‘His knee just so happened to hit his nose and that’s how it started bleeding.’”
It’s no wonder parents feel frustrated trying to teach their children honesty. We’ve seen the president of our nation accused of lying, one corporate executive after another charged with fraud, and even bishops of our church admit to hiding the truth.
And yet, honesty remains a basic pillar of human relations. Because of the importance and timeliness of the issue this will be the first of two columns devoted to raising honest children.
Today’s column will offer practical advice for parents of younger children. Next issue I’ll tackle the more complex temptations teens face, plus how and why parents must draw the line against duplicity in all forms.
Surrounded by evidence of widespread deceit, it’s crucial we don’t overreact when our young children lie. Fibbing doesn’t necessarily point to serious character flaws in our offspring. Parents should seek to understand what lies behind a child’s guile.
The concept of honesty as a character trait develops over time. Don’t be surprised if your preschooler is a repeat offender. A four-year-old lying over spilt milk doesn’t portend a juvenile delinquent. Still, confront the lie directly, explaining that if the child tells the truth, all she will have to do is clean up the milk. But if she lies, she’ll have to clean up the milk and miss her play date.
Avoiding punishment is usually the motivation behind preschooler fibs. Reasoning the values of truthfulness is beyond them, but through consistent training they learn the cost of lying is higher than telling the truth.
Elementary-school-age children begin to assert their independence, and have a strong sense of equality and fairness. Quick to use their burgeoning reason in their own defense, they can be adamant liars. Fights with siblings and friends may increase because of their tit-for-tat mentality; hence their denials of fault may increase as well.
Along with a consequence for deceitful behavior, you can explain how relationships are built on trust. Ask your child to consider what would happen if everyone in the family lied.
At this age kids may also begin cheating at games, exaggerating accomplishments and shading the truth. They may believe this behavior doesn’t hurt anyone, and is okay as long as they don’t get caught.
Get your child’s attention in a calm moment and explain the most insidious damage done by dishonesty occurs in the soul of the deceitful person. Integrity is one of her most valuable possessions, and once it’s eroded, she risks a downhill landslide. Even a secret misdeed will lower your child’s opinion of herself, and make it more difficult for her to live up to her God-given potential.
Children begin to learn about honesty when they’re very young, mostly from watching their parents.
They hear you tell your brother-in-law you can’t make his party because the kids’ piano recital. But they know they haven’t taken piano lessons for a year.
At the movies you purchase a child’s ticket for your son who turned 12 two months ago.
The price tag on a pair of jeans has obviously been switched, but you take it to the cashier without a word and gloat later about getting a “great deal.”
You bring home supplies from work and say, “It’s no big deal, they’ll never miss a few little things.” Or you justify it because they don’t pay you enough.
Despite the prevalence of lying and cheating in today’s news, we can take heart. As parents, we are the strongest influence in our young children’s lives. Commitment to honesty in our own dealings is the best guarantee we have of raising honest children.
(Next month: You never thought it would happen. Your daughter has plagiarized a term paper. How you react will be crucial to her future.)
(Mary Cronk Farrell is a freelance and children’s writer living in Spokane with her husband and three children.)
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