Honesty: I Have Set an Example for You
I remember the first time I was deceptive. The pre-school kids in our family had been told to take naps and while I joined the others on the beds of our mutual bedroom, I didn’t fall asleep. One of my parents came to check on us and because I had my eyes closed, I heard Mom say to my father, “Oh good, they are all asleep.” It was then I realized I could get away with being untruthful.
But my career in deception didn’t last long because my parents faithfully and repetitively taught us about honesty. Not that I didn’t continue my little deceptive practices now and then, but because I had been taught properly and clearly, my conscience wouldn’t let me alone for long.
Here is a simple way to teach children clear principles about honesty. (I prefer a formal setting like family home evening with smells of an upcoming delicious treat lingering in the background. This is because my own memories of honesty lessons are associated with hot brownies. It does help!)
100 pennies (yes, that means a trip to the bank this next week)
A hardback book for each child
A tithing envelope
Preparations: Give each child 10 pennies and one hardback book
3) Being silent
4) Lying about someone’s dishonesty
5) Telling a white lie
7) Being honest with God
8) Small/big honesty
1) Stealing. Have each child spread out ten pennies on the book. Then have them hide one of the pennies in their hand. Discuss that taking something, anything, without permission and keeping it is stealing. This can be a penny from Mom’s purse, a package of gum from the store, a grape from the produce department, or a pencil from school. Taking without permission is dishonest.
2) Lying. Ask each child, in turn, if they have a penny hidden in their hand. Teach them that if they say no, they are not being honest. If they say yes, they are being honest. Then let them practice saying both answers and discuss how they felt when they deceived.
3) Being silent. Tell the children that keeping silent about the penny hidden in their hand, even if they aren’t asked about it, is dishonest. In other words, keeping a secret is a form of deception. Silence is another form of dishonesty.
4) Lying about someone’s dishonesty. Ask each child if their fellow sibling has a penny hidden their hand. Teach them that if they say yes, they are being honest. If they say no, they are being dishonest. Then let them actually role play saying both answers and discuss that lying about someone else’s actions is not honest.
5) Telling a white lie. Talk about how easy it is to make excuses for being dishonest. For instance, you might give the example, “Well Mom, I found this penny and didn’t know whose it was and so I kept it.” Then, ask each child to make up a story about why the might have a penny in their hand. Teach them that telling “a story” to cover up for the real truth is being dishonest.
6) Lastly, children need to act out confessing. Let each child approach you with his penny and go through the actions of telling the truth about stealing the penny. Teach them that everyone makes mistakes, but afterwards it can be made right again. Confessing is the first step. It takes great courage to do this. (At another family home evening, further principles regarding repentance can be addressed.)
The power of role playing cannot be overstated. Children need to sense what it feels like to be dishonest in the safety of a comfortable family setting. They need to see how pleased you are when they tell the truth. They need to know what to do when they are dishonest and how to gain courage to correct their mistake.
As you end your discussion about honesty, it is useful to bring talk about two other principles: honesty with the Lord and small/big honesty issues.
7) Being Honest with God. Have each child put their hidden penny back in the row of pennies in front of them. Then confirm that being honest with God is private honesty because only God know if you have been honest. However, he has been very specific about how to pay an honest tithing. It is 10% of our increase. Then have each child place the proper amount (one penny) on the tithing envelope. (Tithing is the topic for another family home evening, but associating it with honest is an important principle.)
8) Small/Big Honesty. Now, take out the rest of your 100 pennies. Place them in a pile in front of the children and have each child return their pennies to the pile. Mix them up a bit and ask each child if they can find their exact penny in the pile. They will usually decline.
Chose one child to be the penny taker. Have the rest of the children shut their eyes while the penny is being taken and then have the children open their eyes and try to guess where the penny disappeared form the pile.
Ask the more difficult question, “If you take one penny from a big pile of pennies, is it all right?” Then discuss that a dishonest person is often able to deceive without being detected because you can’t easily see what is missing. However, he or she is still being dishonest. It doesn’t matter if it is a small dishonesty or a big dishonesty, it is still dishonest. Why? Because God always knows, even if no one else does.
To clarify and allow children to clearly perceive these concepts, ask them if there are any other ways that you can be dishonest with pennies. You will get some surprising responses and often will be able to investigate the more subtle ways your children have been or intend to be or have even thought about being dishonest.
One by one, walk through their ideas and clarify: “Yes, that is being honest.” “No, that is clearly being dishonest.” “Yes, I won’t be mad if you come and tell me about being dishonest. In fact, I will be proud of you for your courage at wanting to make things right.”
This safety net of teaching, training, and reassuring will undoubtedly make it easier for your children to understand what honesty is, how they can respond to temptations, and what they can do when they’ve goofed.
Be pro-active parents. Teach and train. Model honesty. And then teach again. An honest child is a great treasure in any home!
Photos from sxc.hu. Used with permission.