Honesty seems like it should be simple to teach your child, right? After all, honesty just means telling the truth and being genuine. But teaching toddlers and preschoolers how to be fair and trustworthy can be trickier than it seems, as examples of dishonesty often abound. After all, you may think you're being kind by telling Great Aunt Gertrude that her fruit cake is fantastic, while lamenting to your husband in private about all the room it takes up in your garbage. In reality, you're showing your child that it's okay to tell lies if it's for a "good" reason. There are other ways to deal with this situation.
Tangible Ways to Show Honesty
Kids can show honesty in a variety of ways, big and small. Encourage youngsters to admit if they do something wrong -- for instance, trying to flush an entire roll of toilet paper down the toilet or dropping the cookie jar on the floor in the process of stealing a cookie they weren't allowed to have in the first place. Do your best to keep the veins from popping out in your forehead over the mess -- or the fact that the cookie you've been dying for yourself is now in a pile of broken pottery on the floor -- and try to remember that your child showed integrity by coming to you and admitting his mistake, rather than hiding in his closet or blaming the dog.
Showing Honesty in Day-to-Day Interactions
Always encourage your child to be honest about her feelings. It's okay to be angry at a sibling or sad when a much anticipated playdate gets cancelled. However, point out to kids that being honest about feelings does not mean that retaliation against a little sister who messed up a stack of blocks or a disappointment-induced temper tantrum is appropriate. The act of feeling and admitting emotions is different from having an ugly scene because of them. This is also an ideal time to explain to kids about not blaming others for problems. Toddlers and preschoolers can learn to be responsible for their own actions even at this young age.
Even if you're not thrilled over the actions or emotions that kids are being honest about, praise the effort at honesty. For instance, say, "Thank you for telling me that you freed the turtle from his tank. It's not okay to do that, though -- let's find Mr. Turtle and then the two of us will go and sit in your room for a few minutes and think and talk about why it's dangerous for the turtle not to be in its tank." This is more constructive for a toddler than a time out in this situation, as the child isn't technically getting punished when he told the truth and came clean about his behavior, and it gives you time to sit with your little one and explain the dangers that could have befallen the turtle because it wasn't in its safe habitat. Hopefully, taking the time to think and talk about this will help your child understand the problem with what he did and will act as a deterrent from similar behavior in the future.
Set a Good Example
Even if it goes against your nature to admit weakness, be honest with your children about your own struggles, advises ParentFurther. For example, if you are dieting and having a hard time consistently choosing celery sticks over ice cream, it's okay to let kids hear you say that. Hopefully this will make it easier for kids to admit their own troubles. Also behave honestly in all areas of your life -- if a cashier accidentally gives you back too much change, return it. And back to your Great Aunt's terrible fruitcake -- while you certainly don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, there's always another way to approach a problem rather than a little white lie. For example, "Auntie, we're just really not big fruit cake people. But you know what we love? Your brownies!" Hurt feelings are averted and you'll possibly never have to choke down another piece of inedible cake.