You and I are trying to raise good kids. Not just good kids…GREAT kids. EXCEPTIONAL kids. Kids that stand out from the crowd for being honest, trustworthy, and the kind of kids that do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do.
In our house, we try to teach one value a week. This week was honesty, prompted by the string of “lies” I’ve been hearing from innocent mouths. “Did you do this?” “No”, marker still in hand, and “What happened?” “He accidentally fell”, fingernail marks still evident on the cheek.
Each value lesson we teach has stories and games. But to teach this lesson I had to start with some research.
Honesty: What to expect in the early years
Wishes vs. Lies: In the early years, children’s falsehoods aren’t completely lies…they are more wishes. During the early childhood and up to the preschool years, children’s imaginations reigns and wishful thinking plays a starring role. When your child lies, she is not trying to be deceitful, but instead is trying to wish for a different outcome, and truly believes that by saying No she didn’t do something, it were really actually true. I wish my wishes worked like that.
Elizabeth Crary, author of the children’s book about honesty, Finders, Keepers?, points out, “Wishes are not exactly lies, but neither are they the truth. Developmentally, children this age [preschool] are learning about the difference between fantasy and reality. Teaching the concepts of truth and honesty at this time is quite compatible.”
If it happens in her fantasies, it becomes reality. When she flat-out denies pulling the leg off of her brother’s toy soldier, despite the fact that you caught her in the act, she’s doing so partly out of wishful thinking and partly out of fear. She knows you’re likely to be angry with her because of what she did, and now she wishes she hadn’t done it. A confession is less important at this stage than just getting her to recognize the mistake she’s made in breaking her brother’s toy. While she can be held responsible for her actions, she can not fully be held responsible for the lie since she does not truly understand the concept.
So how do you teach the concept of honesty?
Avoid asking questions when you already know the answer. Even with a 2-year-old, it’s important not to create a situation that actually encourages her to lie. Of course, when we find bright blue scribbles on the kitchen wall, we’re all tempted to turn to our 2-year-old and say in exasperation, “Did you do that?” Your child will probably answer “no,” even while she’s still clutching the crayon in her hand, since she’s afraid that saying “yes” will make you even angrier. “Instead, try saying, ‘I’m sorry that happened! Now we’re going to learn about walls,'” says Jerry L. Wyckoff, a family therapist and co-author of Discipline Without Shouting or Spanking. “Get a bucket and sponge and start scrubbing, guiding your child’s hand so she can help you. When you’re done, she ‘owns’ that wall, and she thinks, ‘Hey, this is our wall and we want to keep it clean!’ There’s been no anger over a lie, and she learns responsibility.” (Don’t be surprised, however, if she scribbles on the wall again the next day just so she can clean it again — unlike parents, 2-year-olds find household chores an amusing change of pace. Rest assured, the novelty will soon wear off.)
Reward the truth. If your child does admit to doing something wrong, respond positively to the fact that she told the truth (“Thank you for telling me! I know that was hard.”), and then deal with the situation itself. If you respond only with anger and punishments, why should she ever tell you the truth again?
Set a good example. The best way to teach honesty is to be honest, so follow through on the promises you make. If you tell your 2-year-old, “We’ll go to the park after lunch,” then pack up the sand toys and head out the door after your meal — or avoid making the promise in the first place, if there’s a chance you won’t be able to keep it.
Let her dream. On your way to dropping off your older child at ballet class, your 2-year-old announces, “I go to ballet, too, at MY dance school.” You know she’s just trying to imitate her revered older sibling, so instead of lecturing her on the importance of telling the truth, reply with an impressed, “Really?” and let her elaborate on this bit of whimsy. If your older child balks, remind her that you indulged her fantasies, too, when she was younger.
Games that teach honesty
True vs. Not true: For our values night, we first helped the kids identify what was true and what was not true. To start, I said somethings that were true and obviously not true –and would elicit giggles — and they would tell me if the statement was true or not true. “I am a dinosaur”, “I am your Mom”, “I am wearing pink”, “I am wearing a swimsuit”, etc. Then, praise them for being able to tell the difference between trues and not trues. Then give each family member a turn coming up with some on their own. To finish, give some more reality-based situations. For example, take a candy off the table and eat it, then say “I didn’t eat the candy.” Or take something from Daddy and say, “I had it first.”
Button Button Who’s Got the Button: You will need a small object that can be easily hidden in your child’s hand, such as a button, a marble, or a coin. Sit in a circle on the floor. Have one person go out of the room or turn around so she can’t see. Give a family member the object and tell them to hide it in their hands. At the end say, “Button Button, who has the button?” Tell them they need to be honest (tell the truth) when you ask them. “Do you have the button?”
Stories that Teach Honesty
Every value night we incorporate stories that illustrate the value in action. Click on the title to read the full stories we chose. We also print out pictures (laminated for future use) and hold them up as we tell the story.
Honest Morgan: A young boy blames his brother for a spill, but learns to tell the truth.
Who Made This Mess?: Austin’s mom guides him to tell the truth and put his toys away in a loving way.
A Song to Remember
“I will tell the truth, I will tell the turty, Saying what is right and true, I will tell the truth.” Sung to the tune of Farmer in the Dell.
To Finish it Off
At the end of the night, we made ‘Honesty Badges’ and wore them all week long.
Good luck in your families. I know you are doing a great job because you care, are looking for ideas, and that is how you found this site. Just keep it going, even when it’s hard or you wonder if they’re getting it. They are.
Next week I’ll post the value of Gratitude (for Thanksgiving, after all!)