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Talking About Honesty

For Ages: 6 to 12

We demand honesty from our children. We can't stand it when they lie to us. We take it personally. But honesty means so much more than not lying. It's about not deceiving, manipulating, or exploiting others. It's about self-respect and integrity. It's about living a truthful life.

Finding the Words
To be honest, we must possess the courage to confront what we fear: rejection, disapproval, failure, and humiliation. Our kids need our help to develop that courage. Here are some questions designed to elicit some honest answers:

The Words: "Why are people dishonest?"

The Reason: We offer many reasons why we lie, cheat, deceive, and pretend. These rationalizations and justifications enable us to avoid facing our dishonest acts. Your kids' responses to this question may reveal the fears behind their dishonesty.

The Words: "Why do people cheat on tests or when they play a game?"

The Reason: By comparing various kinds of cheating, you can help your kids see the different motives behind dishonest acts. Take a look at your own actions, too. Let your kids in on the kinds of situations that test your honesty. Pose this type of question to your kids: "If I fail to point out that a restaurant bill has been incorrectly added in my favor, am I cheating the restaurant owner and staff?"

The Words: "Is it ever okay to lie?"

The Reason: This is a tough one: Do certain situations justify lying? Or is it always better to find the best way to face and speak the truth? A few hypothetical questions might help your kids maneuver this gray area. Here's an example: "Grandma spent the whole day baking a special cake for your birthday. It looks nice, but tastes like sawdust. Do you come right out and tell her so? How do you react?"

The Words: "Say one of your friends tells an unkind joke about another person. It bothers you, but you laugh anyway. Are you being dishonest?"

The Reason: Pretending is a particular form of dishonesty. If you continually act in a manner that's different from what you believe or feel, you're in danger of losing your ability to be honest with others and with yourself. Kids need to know that the cost of compulsive pretending is too high – it's the loss of self.

Conversation Tips
When discussing honesty with your children, be careful not to engage in self-righteous sermons or lectures. The purpose of this discussion is not to make kids feel guilty, or to scare, or shame, them into being honest. Its purpose is to examine and understand the roots of dishonesty, while encouraging your kids to be courageous and truthful.

Beyond the Rap
Challenge everyone to observe his own honesty for one week. Keep track of your own lies (white or otherwise), exaggerations, and pretenses. Then get together and talk about how easy it is to lapse into some form of dishonesty. Brainstorm how to avoid falling into those same dishonesty traps again.

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