How to Raise Honest Children

Parents play a huge role in teaching their children to be honest every day. Since this is an essential quality for success, this International Anti-Corruption Day, teach your child to be honest.

By Akshaya Ganesh

How to Raise Honest Children

At various points of time in our lives, we have had to meet a ford; a ford where we had to decide between being honest and face the repercussions, or lying and choosing the escape route. How have you handled this situation? And, how often have you chosen to be honest and brave the odds?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, an honest individual is ‘Always telling the truth, and never stealing or cheating’. Oftentimes, we’ve heard our parents, teachers and peers tell us how honesty is the best policy. But with increasing competition and decreasing room at the top, our children may face this ford at every step in their lives. Aparna Balasundaram, a parent-and-child expert, says, “Given the environment we are in today and with access to different things, there is a temptation for children to act in other ways, instead of honesty. That is why it is important for children to imbibe honesty and adopt it in their day-to-day life.” 

Therefore, as parents, you need to guide your children and help them embrace honesty as it can lead them to everlasting peace, success and happiness.

Honesty and success

Some time ago, for a special edition of our magazine, we went around India and connected with 27 renowned personalities to understand their secrets for success. We asked them what values they had learnt from their parents which, in turn, helped them become successful in life. Not surprisingly, more than 50 percent of them stated that honesty and integrity are key contributors to their success.

Why do children lie? 

Values are guiding principles in our lives and honesty is one of the most important ones. Toddlers are not yet ready to make a clear distinction between reality and imagination. For example, your child may claim that his friend has given him a bar of chocolate even if that’s not true. While it may seem like the child is telling a lie, it’s his imagination that makes him say so. An accusation at this point can only hurt your child’s feelings. He may even develop a fear of losing your affection.

So, as a parent, understand that children will gradually learn to distinguish between reality and imagination. As their thinking skills continue to develop, they will begin to learn about which behaviours upset their parents. There are two ways you can respond:

First: Use the incident to have a conversation with your child and explain why the behaviour is wrong. With this approach, the child learns to be honest and admit his error. 

Second: Use punishment and strong words in the belief that this will teach your child to not repeat the behaviour. With this approach, the child learns to protect himself by hiding what he has done. By responding in the first way you can help your child practise honesty. 

Five ways to help children embrace honesty

This quote from the famous American author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, reinstates the importance of honesty when it comes to success:

Honesty and integrity are absolutely essential for success in life  all areas of life. The really good news is that anyone can develop both honesty and integrity.”

So, here's how to help your child embrace honesty so that she achieves success that will give her everlasting peace and joy:

  1. Read or narrate moral stories: According to ‘Can Classic Moral Stories Promote Honesty in Children?’, a study published in Psychological Science in 2014, moral stories that praise the honesty of the characters, are more effective. Such stories work better in teaching children about honesty than ones that talk about the repercussions of lying. There are several stories of Akbar and Birbal and Raja Harischandra that you can read to your child to help him understand why being honest is an important stepping stone for peace and success in life.
  2. Be a role model: For many children, parents serve as the first role models. Therefore, as a parent, remember your child is always watching you. Every time you speak the truth about something in front of your child, she too learns to embrace the value. Balasundaram says, “Parents are the best role models. Instead of speaking about it, the best way for parents to teach children about honesty is to model it.”
  3. Praise your child: For your child to embrace honesty, show your appreciation every time she tells the truth. You can say to her — "It took courage to tell the truth. You can be proud of yourself that you are learning to be an honest child”. This way she learns to value herself. A study conducted by researchers from McGill University in 2014, was published in TIME titled ‘Punishing Kids for Lying Only Makes Them Lie More’. It found that children who are reprimanded for lying are more likely to bend the truth and that children are more likely to tell the truth if it pleases an adult.
  4. Avoid labelling your child: If you realise that your child has lied to you, avoid labelling him a liar. Says Aparna, “Children are looking for love and respect from parents. Any kind of negative labelling by parents can be perceived by children as being judgemental. Yes, it is important for parents to correct wrong behaviour, but you can be firm yet loving and respectful, at the same time.”
  5. Games and activities: Games and activities are a fun way to teach children values. As these are entertaining, children also remember the underlying lesson better, because of the experience. When you insist on playing by the rules, even in games, your child will learn that cheating is not acceptable. 

Honesty is a value that will help your child earn the trust and respect of others. As parents, we need to be patient to see the results. The journey to success may be long and hard, but has significant benefits in the long run. This quote from Michelle Obama, the former First Lady of the United States of America, sums up the path to success:

“We learned about honesty and integrity — that the truth matters... that you don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules... and success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square.”

Aparna Samuel Balasundaram is the co-founder of Life Skills Expert that enables parents to raise happy, confident and successful children. www.lifeskillsexpert.com.

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