Shoplifting, lying, cheating… they’re all on the rise. We have become a society that wants immediate gratification and satisfaction without having to work for it, and we want to impress other people and earn their acceptance, no matter the cost. We are willing to go to extreme measures to silence our guilt, avoid consequences, and to dodge any kind of embarrassment. All of this is a recipe for a culture of dishonesty.
It’s no secret and it’s no surprise: dishonest people lose the respect of the people around them, but they also actually begin to distrust themselves and other people. After all, if they don’t tell the truth, why should anyone else? In their book, The Best-Kept Secrets of Parenting, Brad Wilcox and Jerrick Robbins discuss eighteen principles for helping families achieve greater happiness. Wilcox and Robbins offer the following ideas for cultivating a pattern of honesty in your home.
Set a good example. Decide that honesty will be your only policy. Whatever example we set as parents, we can expect it to stay in the minds of our children. Choose today to always tell the truth. Decide that you won’t lie occasionally to cover your errors, and determine to be a person who says what you mean with tact and diplomacy.
Create a strong bond. Often, our children don’t need more instruction on how to tell the truth; they need to be motivated toward honesty. When you have an open relationship with your child, when you’ve created a space that nurtures love, concern, and trust, they are far less likely to see you as an obstacle to get around on the path to getting what they want. When children understand your heart, they don’t want to disappoint you.
Give them a voice. Dishonesty can be a way of fighting back when a person feels a lack of control over their own lives. A long list of “musts” and “don’ts” and “cant’s” can leave a child feeling helpless and hopeless. Some family members may resort to dishonest behavior as a method of survival when they feel they will not be listened to or understood. Recognize that children are in the process of developing their ability to make decisions. They need to feel they have a say in what happens to them.
Praise honesty. When your child admits to a minor error in judgment, when he takes responsibility for his own behavior, be intentional about telling him how good it is to be honest. You can simply say, “I appreciate your honesty,” or even offer as much clarity as, “I’m thankful to know that you admit it when you do something wrong. Now when you say you didn’t do something wrong, I will be able to trust you.”
Maintain accountability. Sometimes kids get the wrong message: they tell a lie, then they correct the error, and then they are “let off the hook.” They begin to see honesty as just another way to avoid natural consequences, instead of choosing the path of integrity all along. If we always let our children off the hook, if we do not expect merchandise to be returned or broken windows to be repaired, then we are robbing our children of the important lessons of restitution. Let there be accountability and consequences for dishonesty.
Correct privately. It’s always best to deal with guilty family members in a private conversation, rather than before others. Find a quiet time, perhaps at bedtime or alone in the car together. As Wilcox and Robbins suggest, think of yourself as a consultant rather than a manager, and think of the conversation as an exploration rather than an accusation. Start by asking, “What happened?” or “What’s wrong?” instead of “I know you’ve been lying to me, and I’d like to know why.” If you don’t get an answer right away, don’t give up. Keep the conversation rolling, or wait in silence. When your child admits the dishonesty, help him or her to create a positive plan of action for the future, and help them stick to it. Always express your love for your children and your confidence in who they are.
Recognize dishonesty as a symptom. Lying of any kind, including cheating, stealing and vandalism, usually points to a deeper problem. There may be the red flags that indicate a problem with self-esteem, poor communication skills, or an overwhelming sense of stress and pressure. The best way to address dishonest behavior is to focus on those underlying problems. Do not be afraid to seek professional counseling for your child or your family. This does not mean you are weak, but rather that you are strong and intentional on a path to healing.
Stay in the game. Don’t give up. We must always remember that we cannot control another person’s actions. Each person makes choices, and each person must accept responsibility. We cannot shield our children from natural consequences, but we must also never give up on teaching them the right path.
When we help our children to develop a pattern of honesty in their lives, when it becomes our family culture, then we help them to experience the peace and happiness that honesty can bring. Take a moment to examine your own life: in what ways can you be more honest with yourself, your children, your spouse, and the people around you? Decide today to make the changes necessary to start a new pattern.
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Tricia Lott Williford is a remarried widow, a writer, teacher, reader, and thinker, and the author of three books. Thousands of readers join her each morning for a cup of coffee as they sign online to read today’s funny, poignant stories that capture the fleeting moments of life. She collects words, quotes, and bracelets, and she lives in Denver with her husband and two sons. You can get to know Tricia through her regular posts at tricialottwilliford.com.