Raising our children with honesty
“It was the day of Saraswati Pooja and there was a celebration at the local temple and I wanted to be there around noon to offer the traditional floral worship. I didn’t want to go by myself and asked my tweleve-year-daughter to take a break from her classes and accompany me. She is more than just an obedient hardworking daughter; she is a great friend to me as well.
Now I had had a torn 100 rupee note with me for quite some time. I do not know how many times I must have tried to get rid of it but was never successful. And I must admit I never tried exchanging the note in the bank as the recent long queues in bank scared me off. On that day, we picked up an auto for the temple and I passed the folded torn 100 rupee note to the auto driver, he did not open it out and instead gave me back the change and left.
In the happiness of getting rid of that note I forgot to notice my daughter, when I did, I found her staring at me and I am sure she was observing the whole scene very keenly. She turned to me and said, “Amma, it will be difficult for people like him to use that note. They can’t even change it as maybe he does not have access to the bank. Take the note back and I am sure we can change it with the Bank. I felt awful and extremely humbled. I immediately gave her eighty rupees and she went back to the auto driver. The auto driver had not realized the 100-rupee note was torn but had a smile when my daughter told him and handed over the change. I stood still with my mind full of pride for my daughter, a lesson learnt for myself in honesty and humility on the auspicious day of Saraswati Pooja.” This was an experience shared by a very close friend of mine. As she was narrating this, my mind was as usual set on a journey of thoughts and questions to myself. How practical is it to raise children with honesty in today’s world? Are we only preaching the values and value systems? Do we really help them practice or do we show them how to apply value systems in our lives?
In raising kids to be leaders in business, family and community for the twenty-first century, setting the standard for honesty is an expectation you have to be intentional about. Today’s culture doesn’t support honesty like past generations. Cheating is epidemic, online behavior gives opportunities for false-representation of ideas or personal behavior, and technology has opened the door for all kinds of dishonest business practices and scams. Being honest almost could be archaic in this environment.
Yet to raise kids who will be honest adults and leaders with integrity in future generations, we as parents need to be intentional about living and modeling honestly ourselves while coaching our children on how to be honest, even if it costs them something. Today’s environment of greed and individualism perpetuates the moral relativism of being honest.
1. Talk to your children-beginning very early- about how much you value honesty in your family
Tell them how important it is for all of you that you can always count on each other to tell the truth-even when it's difficult. If there's no honesty between parents and children, there won't be trust or closeness in your family either. It is important to focus on how honesty was the very backbone of the family. It should form the bedrock upon which the family relationships and mutual trust and respect were built.
2. Model honesty for your children-not only in your words but also in your lifestyle
You can't expect them to tell you the truth if you're not honest with them-even when they ask you an awkward question. Be brief and be age appropriate in your response, but if you lie to them when it's embarrassing to tell the truth, you can't expect them to blurt out the truth when it's tough for them. Obviously, both parents and children have a right to a private life and you need to draw careful boundaries when sharing intimate details that are over their heads or too personal. Your goal should be to create an open environment where there are no secrets and everyone feels comfortable being truthful.
3. Let them know that you put more emphasis on their honesty than on the punishment for their dishonest behavior
Yes, you can impose consequences for their lie, but they need to know there's a benefit for them in being honest. If you glide right over their courage in pouring out the truth and jump to a punishment, they won't be quick to fess up the next time. If it's still necessary to discipline after they've bravely spilled the beans, do it with respect, be tender with them and let them know how much you appreciate their honesty.
4. Share examples of when you’ve been honest and the positive results that came from it
Most of our kids don’t see us make hard choices in life. Adults have opportunities to be dishonest every day. Each time we choose to live honestly, we are modeling behavior for our kids, but they often don’t see it. Simple things like not cheating on tax returns may be something you do every year, but your kids don’t see that act of private honestly. Talk with your kids about this with a simple conversation about taxes, the temptation to be dishonest, and why you choose not to. Think of other choices you make to live honestly in your daily lives and share that with your kids. Sharing these examples with your teens will give them strength in private moments where they know if mom and dad privately make honest decisions, it might be easier for them to.
5. Be honest in your conversations with them
As a parent, this is something I constantly have to think through. Being honest means if I say I’d do something with them, I need to make sure I follow through with that. Otherwise, things shouldn’t be promised. Honestly just isn’t in telling the truth about something, it’s in making truthful statements. Kids learn by their tweens to either trust mom or dad’s word or not. This starts with simple things but can make a big impact when their perception of mom or dad is that they lie because the things you tell them aren’t truthful in practice. The words we share with our kids are important.
When we intentionally choose what values we want our kids to learn and live those out in front of them, we’re equipping them to live with those values as adults. It’s still their choice to accept those values, but the validity and confidence they receive when values are honestly displayed before can’t be replicated any other way.
(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)