A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.
Even toddlers can understand fundamental ideals such as honesty and trust. Yet it can be difficult for their parents to be certain that they are forming values-driven consciences of their own.
In “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis’s recent Apostolic Exhortation, he stressed the need for formation of consciences amongst the faithful and noted that Jesus “never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals.”
Because the family is one of the main places children learn virtues, parents should work to develop trust from day one, says Michael Donaldson, Diocese of Orange director of the Office of Pastoral Care for Families in all Stages.
“If we develop trustworthiness in our children at an early age, they’ll be more successful in the world,” Donaldson says. “They will be authentic, living in grace, and they will go beyond themselves to care about others.”
That said, it is difficult for parents to be good examples of truth and responsibility. So the Office of Pastoral Care offers training for leaders and provides resources for parents of children from many different backgrounds.
“Our desire is to teach the whole child,” he notes. “It’s important for teachers to know if parents are struggling with discipline, domestic violence or divorce so that they can work with you to figure out what needs adjustment.”
Several online resources list ways parents can help steer their children toward honesty. The Good Men Project offers these tips:
- Be the lesson. Display honesty in everything you do. Don’t underestimate their understanding or try to make excuses for your bad behavior.
- Play detective. Kids lie because they want to make their parents happy – and to avoid punishment.
- Rock their star. Show your kids that being truthful matters by rewarding their honesty.
- Avoid emotional punishments. When putting rules in place it is very important to be consistent with kids, but also take a moment to relax before you decide on their fate.
- Build values and integrity into their DNA. The sooner you begin teaching kids values that make sense, the better off they’ll be. Each day we are given teachable moments, so use them early and often.
- Maintain perspective. Help kids realize that some things really aren’t that big of a deal and can be dealt with without conflict if they just talk to you openly.
- There are no enemy lines at home. Avoid showdowns and struggles for power. As parents, you are head of state, but you don’t have to shine a spotlight like they are in an interrogation room.
- Innocent until proven guilty. No matter how many times your child has lied to you, remember they’ve probably told the truth more often than they’ve lied. Don’t rush to judgment.
- Know when the issue becomes a real problem. Childhood lying is one thing, but deception and manipulation are another. If you feel in your gut that it’s a real problem, don’t be afraid to seek professional help for you and your family.
Donaldson agrees that lessons about honesty, trust and dependability can begin at birth. “Be consistent with rules and discipline and be honest about the reasons why,” he advises. “Being forthcoming at an early age and being authentic with them teaches them to do the same.”
Sometimes children will lie to avoid punishment, so it’s important for parents to reassure them that though they made mistakes, their parents still love them.
“Telling the truth takes courage,” notes Deborah Farmer Kris, an associate at Boston University’s Center for Character and Responsibility. “When kids are honest, they are choosing to be brave – and kids want to see themselves as honest and brave.”