In a climate rich in political rhetoric, we all look for truth tellers. And it’s much harder to find than we think. Candidates gloss over past sins, others are quick to give excuses or cast blame on anything or anyone but themselves. A common debate exchange: one candidate makes an accusation against another, who counters with, “That is 100% false.” Do we really know who is telling the truth? Can we even know? Honesty and political discourse are rare bedfellows, which leaves many of us disillusioned by the debates.
As we continue to examine character traits we desire to teach our children, we can all agree on the importance of Truthfulness. The Scriptures speak liberally about the importance of honesty. Not only is honesty included in the Ten Commandments, but truthfulness is a theme in all of Scripture: to follow after God desires truthfulness in the inner parts (Psalm 51:6); God hates a lying tongue (Proverbs 16:6); we are instructed to let our yes be yes (Matthew 5:37); we are not to lie to one another (Colossians 3:9).
All children lie, and they don’t need be instructed on how to do it. As every parent learns, sin is woven into the fabric of our being. I recall a situation several years ago when a young kindergarten girl was telling tall tales – outlandish stories she presented as true, and many of her classmates believed her. While an element of this was humorous, presenting falsehoods in such a manner had to be addressed. What can parents do to encourage their children in developing truthfulness? Below are a few strategies and ideas to develop truthfulness in our children.
- Model the importance of being truthful – We’ve all been in the grocery store when the teller forgot to charge us for something, or perhaps returned too much change back after a purchase. We as adults may be tempted to rationalize away the extra money (“Hey, it’s not my fault she gave me a five instead of a one”), but these teachable moments model for our children the importance of honesty in spite of the consequences. If they see us compromising the truth in subtle ways, they will mimic our behavior; when they see us not compromise on the truth, particularly when it costs us something, children take notice.
- Have a zero tolerance policy for lying – In our busyness as parents, we are tempted to “choose our battles.” While we don’t want to instill a rabid, Pharisaical approach to parenting, we must never allow our children to get away with telling lies due to tyranny of the urgent, pragmatics, or because the lie was funny or cute. Children must see lies and “half truths” as offenses against God and neighbor, and consequences should have an appropriate sting. Discipline in situations when a child has not been truthful requires a healthy time investment from parents, and consequences such as confession and asking for forgiveness of the person they transgressed.
- Read fairy tales and good stories – Great children’s literature with laudable and praiseworthy characters highlights honesty and truth telling. Classic Fairy tales and good stories contain messages of good triumphing over evil, where characters who demonstrate virtue are rewarded. Wisdom is better caught than taught, and through implication and by drawing their own logical conclusions, stories and fairy tales provide a valuable learning tool for children.
- Reward truthfulness – As a teacher, I would occasionally make a grading error on a student’s exam (hard to believe, I know…). When a student brought this to my attention, I would always praise him for doing so, but wouldn’t deduct any points. The message of praising his honesty was worth much more than a point on a test. Encouraging children when they are truthful, and even rewarding them when appropriate, instills the right habits.