Teaching Values to Young Children: Honesty

It is only about the time that they reach elementary school that children really understand what it means to ‘tell the truth’ and to recognize the importance of trust.

Two and three year olds

Two and three year olds are just beginning to develop the ability to speak—though they’ve been listening carefully to what goes on around them since they’ve been born.  Even so, very young children have trouble processing questions about what is true or untrue.  They think at a concrete level and their responses often reflect what they want or feel, rather than objective reality.

What can you do

To develop a two or three year olds ability to distinguish between reality and fiction, regularly talk to them about the difference between what really happens and what they might wish, imagine, or have intended.  So if a child spills something and denies it, you might say, ‘I know you didn’t mean to spill the water, but sometimes accidents happen. Come and help me clean up the water and we will talk about how you can play more carefully next time.’  

Four and five year olds

Four and five year olds are further on the way to distinguishing between truth and untruth but they still are likely to focus on what they want or feel. Fear of punishment often will lead them to deny doing something they know is forbidden.

What can you do

Children find it easier to follow rules and do what is right if they are told why certain behaviors are not safe, appropriate or kind. If a child denies doing something, ask him or her to remind you of why following the rule is important. You also should stress how important trust is, and how telling the truth reinforces trust. Be sure you praise your child for telling the truth; when they do so, limit your response to logical consequences.  For instance, if your child breaks something, and reluctantly admits it, you can say, ‘I am glad you told me what really happened; please come and help me clean up. I am proud of you because I know I can trust you to tell me the truth. I’m sure that I can trust you to be more careful next time.’  

Six and seven year olds

Most six and seven year olds should be able to distinguish the truth from an untruth.   

What can you do

If you’re sure your child does know the difference, and you catch your child lying, ask yourself why. Is he or she afraid of punishment? Does he or she want to look good in the eyes of others? Have you told your child it is always best to tell the truth, no matter what the consequences? Does your family value telling the truth? If you feel comfortable that your child knows the concept of truthfulness, perhaps it is time to introduce consequences for lying.  

Use the Cory stories to demonstrate the consequences of lying and discuss these with your children. Stress the importance of truth as a trust builder, and the importance of trust between people.  Children will learn to feel proud of themselves when they choose to tell the truth.  

Bookmark and Share