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Sample Family Night Lesson: Honesty and Truth

Introductory Comment:
Teaching children honesty can be a real challenge, given the examples of dishonesty that they will encounter every day in the world around them. Your example, and your constant feedback about your child’s behavior, can be a powerful influence on your child. Along with your example, we have discovered some other teaching methods that work.

General Guidlines

Give Effusive, Elaborate Praise.

This encourages honesty on a day-to-day basis. Preschoolers will repeat behavior they receive attention for. They prefer positive attention (praise) to negative attention (reproval or punishment), but they prefer negative attention to no attention at all.

Therefore, when small children lie, try to give them as little attention as possible (other than quietly letting them know that you know it’s not the truth). When they tell the truth, praise them extravagantly. And when they tell the truth in terms of admitting they did something wrong (“Who wrote on this wall?”), make the praise you give them for telling the truth outweigh the punishment or redress you give them for what they did. Preschoolers can understand the distinction and the separation between your displeasure with what they did and your pleasure with their truthfulness.

Ideas for Preschoolers

The Demonstration Game.

This simple game can help small children grasp the concept and know the terminology.

Ask, “Do you know the difference between something that’s true and something that’s not true? Let’s see if you do. I’ll say something and you say, ‘True’ or ‘Not true.'” Start with simple physical facts and move toward things relating to behavior, for example:

  • The sky is green. (Kids say, “Not true.”)
  • (Point at foot) This is my foot. (Kids say, “True.”)
  • Ants are bigger than elephants.
  • We see with our eyes.
  • We hear with our nose.
  • Milk comes from chickens.
  • Take a cookie out of a jar and eat it. Then say, “I didn’t eat the cookie.”
  • Drop a toy on the couch. Then say, “Yes, I left my toy on the couch.”

Then say, “You really can tell the difference between true and not true, can’t you? Do you know what it’s called when someone says something that’s not true? It’s called a lie.”

Now: “I’ll say some more things and you say, ‘Truth’ if it’s true and ‘Lie’ if it’s not true.”

  • Pick up a dollar on the floor. Then say, “I didn’t find a dollar.”
  • Give a bit of food to someone else. Then say, “No, I didn’t eat all my food. I gave some of it to .”

(Use illustrations appropriate to your child or children.)

Then ask, “Why is telling the truth better than telling a lie?” (So that everyone knows what really happened; so the wrong person won’t get blamed; so we can learn to do better, etc.)

Ideas for Elementary and Adolescent Ages

The Consequence Game.

This game can help children understand that the long-term consequence of honesty are always better than the long-term consequences of dishonesty.

Prepare pairs of simple index cards or small sheets of paper. On one side of each of the cards in the pair describe two alternative courses of action – one honest and one dishonest – along with the short-term consequences of each action. Fill out the other side of the cards so that when the two cards are flipped over, the long-term consequences are revealed. Play it as a game, letting children decide, by looking at the front sides only, which option they would take.

Index Cards

Front Sides of Cards

Reverse Sides of Cards

You are at the store buying something and the clerk gives you $10 too much change. You keep it. After all, it was his mistake and not yours. You go into the toy store next door and buy some new handle grips for your bike.

You know the money wasn’t yours. You start to worry that the clerk will have to pay the store $10 out of his wages. Whenever you ride your bike, the new handle grips remind you that you were dishonest.

When the clerk gives you the $10 change, you tell him he has given you too much and give the $10 back to him. He says thanks, but as you walk out, you start thinking about the new handle grips you could have bought with the $10.

You feel good and strong inside because you were honest. Whenever you ride your bike, you remember that you need handle grips, but you also remember that you were honest.

You are sitting in class taking a really hard test that you forgot to study for. The girl across the aisle seems to know all the answers, and her paper is so easy to see. You copy a few answers and end up getting an A- on the test.

Your conscience bothers you. You know that you didn’t deserve the A. You wonder if anyone saw you cheating. It’s a little hard for you to get to sleep that night. On the next test you’re unprepared again.

You’re a little mad at yourself for not studying harder and you’re really worried about your grade. Still, you keep your eyes on your paper and do your best. Unfortunately your best that day is only a C on the test.

You resolve to study harder. Next test you do better. You like yourself because you know you are honest. Other people like you because they know you can be trusted.

Develop other cards to meet your own situation. Let the short-term consequence of a dishonest act be good, the long-term consequence bad. Develop cards on honesty with parents, with siblings, with friends, with institutions, and so on.

After playing the game ask the question, “What could a person do if he made the dishonest choice and felt bad about it afterward? (He could return the money, apologize, etc.)

The Honesty Under Pressure Award.

This is a motivational way to get children to evaluate their personal honesty every week. At the beginning of family night each week this month ask, “Who had a situation this past week where it was a challenge to be honest?” Have an “award” on hand to give to the person who remembers the best incident of being honest. A piece of construction paper or colored card with a neatly printed H.U.P. (Honesty Under Pressure) will do nicely as the award. Let the child (or adult) who wins put it on his bedroom door during the week until it is awarded again the next week.

After a couple of weeks of “getting used to,” you will find that children are willing to think hard about their behavior of the past week in hopes of winning the award. And it is this kind of thinking and recognition that strongly reinforces honesty.

If it is working well, continue the weekly award ceremony into next month.

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