Teaching Kids About Honesty

Lisa Larsen, LPC
As members of the St. Gabriel’s family, our students recite our school oath each morning: 

“I will embrace the virtue of prudence; it gives me the judgment to make good choices. I will exhibit the virtue of temperance; it enables me to control my actions. I will display the virtue of justice; it teaches me to treat others fairly. I will model the virtue of fortitude; it gives me the courage to do what is right. I ask you, God, for the grace to live these virtues daily.”

We take pride in talking about our school virtues and practice what it means to have integrity, to communicate with respect, and to assume best intentions in one another. The goal is to develop behaviors and skills that create happy, well-adjusted, caring adults. Honesty is one of those important behaviors. 

Honesty forms the basis of trust in our relationships. As parents, we can all recall those moments with our children when as we enter a bedroom of mass destruction occupied by only one small human being, and we are greeted with "it wasn’t me!" or that precious face covered in chocolate... "I don’t know what happened to the M&Ms," or my favorite answer to any direct question, "I don’t know."

In Dr. Victoria Talwar’s new book The Truth About Lying: Teaching Honesty to Children At Every Stage and Age (2022), she describes 3 Steps to teaching kids about honesty:
  1. Talk with Kids about Honesty: The best time to talk to kids is during a moment of calm and quiet - not in the heat of just catching a child in a lie. Describe in simple terms what honesty means and why it is so important in establishing trust between people. You might give them examples of how you practice honesty, including admitting it when you make a mistake in not telling the truth. Ask them for specific examples of not being honest and how they might handle those situations. Discuss situations in books or movies where a character chooses honesty when it might be easier to lie. What does that look like? How do you think he/she feels? How does lying affect others and our relationships?
  1. Acknowledge and Recognize Honesty: As parents it’s easy to focus on the moments when we hear children lie but I encourage you to focus more on the moments when a child is telling the truth (“Thank you for telling me the truth about where you went;“ "Thank you for being honest about breaking the toy”). Remember too much praise becomes insincere. The goal is to create internal motivation - it feels good to be honest about myself and others. 
  1. Model Honesty: If we want children to recognize and understand honesty, we have to match our words with our actions. It’s that simple. If children see us getting away with not being honest or not following through with our promises, they will believe that lying is really ok. 
Even in those moments when we tell “white lies” that don’t feel like big deals to us, kids notice and our actions speak much louder than our words. 

As parents, we sometimes have to think before we promise something. The benefit of being thoughtfully honest is that your child will see you as being reliable, trustworthy, and dependable. These are the exact traits we are hoping to develop in our children. I encourage you to explore and think more about how your family practices and recognizes honesty. 

Please enjoy this article by Dr. Victoria Talwar to read more about teaching children about honesty.
Lisa Hellmer, LPC
St Gabriel’s Counselor
St. Gabriel's Catholic School is an Independent Catholic school in Austin TX, educating children in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school.