Bringing up children to be responsible and mature adults is one of the important responsibilities of parents. Among the traits that we have to teach our children, honesty is an important one. Honesty is about being truthful to others and to ourselves. It is about being truthful even if being so would cause trouble or embarassment. Its about being truthful even if not being so would bring one benefits.
Here a few tips for parents to inculcate honesty in children.
Honesty is not just the truth
Let's start by being honest in admitting that honesty is not just black and white truth. Often parents teach their children that honesty is the same as "speaking the truth". Honesty is about "being truthful" not just about "speaking the truth". It is also about doing your best and trying to do the right thing. That why they call it "an honest day's work" or "an honest attempt". Honesty is also about not taking what you have not rightfully earned. It is also about fairness and "playing by the rules".
Give examples of how you and the world are honest
As always, educating our children starts with us being role models for them. If they see us being honest in our relationships with others, they will pick it up quickly. Give them examples of how you have to be honest or where you had to make a choice between honesty and gain.
- If you work, talk about why it is a fair tradeoff between your compensation and the labour you provide to your employer. Discuss why you put in your best efforts even if no one is watching over you.
- Talk about times when someone made a mistake which you could have benefited from while they suffered and why you chose to be honest (for example: when you returned the extra shampoo bottle that your local store accidentally added to your shopping)
- Talk about times when you have been cheated by others and how hurt you felt
- Newspapers often have examples of honesty - bus drivers returning jewelry, auto drivers returning documents left behind by passengers etc., Point these out to your children
- If you are watching a sporting event and you see a sporting gesture,
Stories about honesty
There are many stories about honest people - in the Panchatantra and in the Jataka tales. There is also the famous story of Gandhiji and his honesty even when he was very young. His teacher gave the class a dictation with 5 words, when an inspector was visiting. Gandhiji could only get 4 words right and could not spell the one word - "kettle" - correctly. His teacher saw the misspelt word and prompted him to copy it from a classmate, begind the inspector's back. Gandhiji refused to do so even though the inspector would find the error and point it out in front of the whole class. He cared about being honest.
Other practical stories, exist in many sports like cricket. For instance, you can have a discussion with your child about whether batsmen should walk from the crease when they know they have edged a ball even if the umpire does not realize it.
Do not punish obvious dishonesty - make it a lesson
When you know that your child is lying, do not punish or otherwise berate your child for being dishonest. This will only make it worse. Do not label the child as being a liar or as being dishonest.
Use the opportunity to find out why they made the wrong choice and educate them about it. Teach them about being truthful to oneself, even if other people do not find out otherwise. If there is a way for them to do the right thing, and be honest, make them do it. For example, a child may tell you that he did not make the mess in the toy room and his sister did. If you know otherwise, talk to them about it gently and make him clean up the toy room so he understands what the right thing to do is. When he is doing the cleanup, pitch in and help out so he understands that when he is honest, you will also help him.
In particular, children have to be 3 to 3 1/2 years old to understand concepts like honesty, truth and fairness. Before that, they will need your guidance and compassion to slowly absorb these concepts.
When your child is honest in any number of ways - If they give their best effort, if they speak the truth, if they played by the rules, appreciate them. Your positive feedback will help reinforce the right behaviour in them.
With these tips, we can help our children become honest, upright citizens who contribute to make this world a better place.