Raising Honest Kids in a Dishonest World

Written by Tera Michelson

It was a parenting moment to remember. While putting away clean laundry, I found the top of an antique dresser freshly marked with a carving. The offending tool, a contorted paperclip, still lay nearby, mocking me. This was going to take more than a little mama spit to fix. It didn’t take much sleuthing to find the culprit: the carving was the full name of my middle child. What’s a Mama to do?

I reacted. Poorly. I freaked out, actually. I asked the question that set up my boy to lie. “Did you do this?” I mean, clearly, he had done it. It was his name, a signature. He swore it was his younger brother, who lacked the skills and height to create such handiwork. After days of denial and blame (did I mention that my boy is strong-willed?), came a river of tears and, finally, a confession.

Honesty can be elusive in this complicated world. Lying, cheating, blaming and stealing—dishonest behavior comes so naturally to us. A quick flip through the Old Testament confirms it: the lies of Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the trickery between Jacob and Esau, poor Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers. Deceit and fraud is nothing new on the timeline of humanity.

In the living laboratory of my household, I’ve learned that teaching my family about honesty best comes in one form: by example. In typical parenting fashion, this is easier said than done.

Remember That You Are Under Observation

Driving above the speed limit? Your little mathematician sees that as cheating. Calling in sick to take a fun day off? Faker! Our half-truths and little white lies teach our children that dishonesty is an acceptable method of avoiding punishment and ramifications. Make every effort to take honest actions. Your kids take notice.

 Speak the Truth

Teach your children that your words matter. Follow through on what you say you’ll do. Don’t set up a consequence that you can’t keep. If you say you are going to leave a store if your child does not stop whining, then be prepared to abandon your cart and exit. Make sure your child knows that you do what you say.

 Reward Honesty

When the truth does come out, reward your child. Thank him, hug her, make sure they know that there’s nothing they can say that will make you love them less. Consider skipping punishment for the dishonesty, and offer grace instead. The point is to set up a relationship with your child that calls for a lifetime of telling the truth, even if it is not what we parents want to hear.

You will make mistakes. We all do. Thankfully, Jesus was sent onto the scene with a new plan—forgiveness and love. Lead your family with the peace of mind that only Jesus can give. You are not alone!

TERA MICHELSON is a writer, photographer, teacher, super-volunteer, mama and wife—not necessarily in that order. When she is not driving a carpool, you will find her baking cupcakes, walking a scruffy dog named Otto or attending a meeting at church or the local school. Tera enjoys thinking and sharing about family faith-building in a complicated world. She lives in a hilly suburb of Cincinnati, OH, with her pastor
husband and three teenaged children.

The Values Project is a year-long initiative designed to equip families to raise children who thrive emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Get inspiration, practical ideas, family activities, and parenting tips from our network of seasoned parents and faith leaders, because it takes a village to raise a good human. Each month we’ll explore a different value–like honesty, loyalty, creativity, kindness, and more.

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Looking for children’s books about honesty? Check out our top picks.