Enhancing children's lives through parent and teacher education.

Building The Foundation for An Ethical Life - Part II

In Part I we talked about being a good role model for honesty as part of setting yourself up for success. Today we'll talk about the other ways that we can set ourselves up for success in this area, before moving on and talking about specific ways we should respond to dishonesty in order to facilitate more honest behavior in the future.

1) Talk to your child about the value of honesty --

* You feel better about yourself when you tell the truth

* It maintains personal integrity

* People trust you when you're honest

* You're given more freedom when people trust you.

* When your child is honest, prove what you've said by giving him more freedom, trusting him and reinforcing how proud he must feel about himself when he tells the truth.

2) Catch your child doing it right. When we react only when we catch our children doing it wrong, it sends the message to them that no matter how much they do that we approve of, they'll only get attention when they do something wrong. They wind up feeling that it's not worth it to be honest, because we never comment on that. This attitude of "catch them doing it right" is a powerful lesson, because the child learns that we're paying attention all of the time, not just when they misbehave.

3) Avoid setting your child up to lie. One of my favorite cartoons involves a little girl who is playing with her mother's scotch tape. As the panels progress, she winds up covered in tape, with none at all left on the roll. In walks the mother, and says "Trixie! Have you been playing with my scotch tape again?" And the little girl thinks "Well, gee, if she doesn't know, I'm sure not going to tell her!"

* Don't ask your child questions you already know the answer to. If you know your child did something, confront her firmly and gently. Telling the truth is a difficult enough without the added temptation that our asking provides. Simply say something like "I see you've broken the lamp. I feel very disappointed." If your child denies it, don't get into a long, involved speech on lying. Again, keep it simple and say "I'd like you to help clean it up, and then later we'll discuss how you can replace it." Of course, it's imperative that you be sure your child did it before you confront them in this way.

4) Build your child's courage, so that when they have to tell you something difficult, they'll have the courage to do so.

* We build courage in our children's daily lives when we separate who they are from what they do. We must constantly send the message to our children that we may not love what they do, but we'll always love who they are. If our children live in fear of losing our love, they will lie whenever they're afraid that we'll be mad about what they did. Children who feel unconditionally loved and accepted are far more likely to risk our anger, because they know that no matter what happens, we'll still love them.

Another way to build courage is by showing confidence in them. When we trust our children to be honest, and convey that confidence to them, they will live up to our trust. It's far more powerful to say "I believe in you. I believe you'd tell me if you did something wrong. I trust you," than to say "Are you sure you're telling me the truth? It doesn't sound like it to me. Look at your face, it has 'lie' written all over it. Now out with it! What really happened?"

"Courage" comes from the French "cour", meaning "heart".

When we build our children's courage in the ways described above, we speak directly to their heart. When they feel in their hearts that they are trusted, it's a powerful motivator to be truthful.

When we promote honesty in the family, we increase the likelihood that our children will come to us with the truth. But even if you're promoting honesty in your family, there will undoubtedly be times when your child will lie to you.

When our children lie to us it's almost like getting slapped in the face, and it leaves us shocked, confused, and often very angry. Our frequent response to those feelings of frustration, anger, and helplessness is to become punishing. We withhold privileges, we yell, and we threaten, among other things, in hopes of scaring them into telling us next time. We say things like "I can't believe you'd lie to me! What's the matter with you? If I ever catch you in a lie again, I'll come down on you so hard you won't know what hit you. Now go to your room -- you're grounded for the month." Of course, the key here, and what the child prominently hears is "IF I CATCH YOU...", and you can be sure that next time it won't be as easy to catch him, especially if he has anything to say about it. You see, when we respond to our children's misbehavior (in this case lying) by yelling at and threatening them, we make ourselves even less approachable in the future. Yelling, threatening, and punishing are self-defeating, because what we WANT is for them to feel comfortable coming to us with the truth. Somehow, we must find a balance between teaching them a lesson about lying and making them comfortable about coming to us in the future with the truth.

So what do we do? How can we teach our children a lesson, yet still keep the lines of communication open so they aren't afraid to come to us in the future when a difficult situation arises?

Next time we'll beging discussing the three types of lies: fanciful storytelling, telling untruths, and breaking agreements and we'll discover how we can handle these with our children in the most effective way possible.