How to Teach Your Kids about Honesty
by Dan Seaborn
When one of our sons was in third grade, his mother and I had to deal with an honesty infraction through balancing grace and truth. This particular incident came to my attention as I was driving home from work. I had called my wife to see what she was doing and to tell her I was on my way home. She said, “Honey, when you get home, you have to deal with a pretty significant issue related to one of the kids.” Right then my heart skipped a beat.
She proceeded to tell me that our son Josh had admitted to cheating on a test at school. After I hung up the phone, I found myself fuming. But right at that moment, a convicting realization forced its way into my internal monologue: when I was in the same grade, I also had cheated at school.
The rest of my drive home was consumed with thinking about how I would talk to my child, incorporating an admission that I had struggled with the same scenario at the same age and stage. How would I explain that although this was unacceptable behavior, I had done the same thing?
When I got home, my son looked sheepish and miserable as he slouched against the wall with his head hung. Although I immediately wanted to comfort him, I knew he needed to feel the discomfort and to associate it with his actions. He explained to me how the cheating had come about, and when he was done I paused for a moment and then said simply, “Son, when I was your age, I cheated, too!”
This surprised—even shocked—him, but I think my sharing that truth with him helped to take the edge off our whole conversation. He didn’t feel so alone, and I stood there as living evidence that people can successfully recover from their mistakes. We proceeded to talk about how important it was that he never cheated again. To ensure that he wouldn’t, I told him he needed to confess to his teacher what he had done.
My goal, of course, was to build his character. If I had covered for him and agreed not to tell his teacher, what good would this capitulation have accomplished? If he were to have played out that watering down of the principle into his adult life, he might eventually have proceeded to cheating at work, stealing from his employer, and surrounding himself with friends who would have condoned his behavior.
Grace isn’t about letting your kids off the hook when they have done something wrong; it is loving them through their mistakes and as they deal with the consequences. By being proactive in your approach and teaching your children lessons through discipline and by example, you will save yourself a lot of future heartache.
Dan Seaborn is the founder of Winning At Home and Director of the Marriage & Family Division of AACC. He has authored twelve books including Parenting with Grace and Truth.
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