7 Ways to Encourage Honesty in Children

A group of smiling children.

As parents, we all want our children to grow up into responsible adults and honesty plays a big part in this process. (Image: Diego Vito Cervo via Dreamstime)

As parents, we all want our children to grow up into responsible and reliable adults. Honesty plays a big part in this process. So what do you do when your child starts telling little white lies?

First, don’t panic. It’s normal for kids to start stretching the truth as they develop their own way of thinking. It doesn’t mean your child is turning into a habitual liar. Instead, it’s a sign that it’s time to start teaching about honesty.

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How you react to your child’s dishonesty can make a big difference.

7 ways you can help your kids understand the value of honesty

1. Have a chat about being honest

Depending on their age, teaching kids about honesty will look different. For younger kids between 2 and 5 years old, you might want to keep it simple. Use pictures or tell a story that shows the consequences of dishonesty and the rewards of being honest.

For younger children, you can tell a story that shows the consequences of lying and the benefits of honesty.
For younger children, you can tell a story that shows the consequences of lying. (Image: Claudiu Marius Pascalina via Dreamstime)

For older kids and teenagers, you can have a more in-depth conversation. Talk about trust and how honesty plays a crucial role in building strong relationships.

2. Praise honesty, not lies

Children need to see that being honest makes you happy. Start rewarding honesty from an early age. When they own up to a mistake, thank them for telling the truth. Children want to make their parents proud, and your appreciation for their honesty will encourage this behavior.

However, remember that rewards should be about recognizing good behavior, not bribing your child to be honest. So keep the rewards simple, like a hug or words of praise.

3. Show them what honesty looks like

Children learn a lot from watching the adults around them. You can show them what honesty looks like in your everyday actions. If you make a mistake, admit it. If you promise something, follow through.

For example, if you’re at the zoo and there’s no one to take your ticket, find a way to pay anyway. Actions like this show your child what it means to be honest, even when no one is watching.

4. Don’t set them up to lie

Avoid testing whether your child is being honest. If you know they haven’t cleaned their room, don’t ask: “Have you cleaned up your room?” Instead, tell them you know they haven’t done it yet and ask them to clean it up.

A messy child's bedroom.
When you know your child hasn’t tidied their room, asking them if they’ve done so could invite them to be dishonest. (Image: Syda Productions via Dreamstime)

5. Avoid labels

Constantly calling your child a liar can have negative consequences. It can make them defensive and more likely to lie to protect themselves. Instead, focus on their actions, not their character.

6. Teach about consequences

When your child lies, it’s important to explain the consequences of their actions. Instead of responding with anger, explain how lying hurts trust in a relationship.

7. Help them choose good friends

The friends your child chooses can influence their behavior. Talk to your child about the importance of choosing friends who are honest and trustworthy. Listen to your child’s stories about their friends, and if you notice signs of dishonesty, discuss it with your child.

Teaching your child about honesty is about more than just telling them not to lie. It’s about showing them the value of trust and building strong relationships. Remember, this is a process. As your child grows, they’ll need your guidance to navigate the nuances of being honest in different situations.

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