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Teaching Honesty and Responsibility to Your Children

Teaching honesty and responsibility takes a considerable amount of time and patience, and it isn't anything like teaching your kids how to tie their shoes, where they understand the basic concept after a few lessons. You'll have to keep hammering away at these lessons for a long time.

Can we be honest?

You teach honesty by encouraging your kids to tell the truth and to let you know what's on their minds. Having your children tell you what's on their minds shouldn't be a frightening thought.

When you've taken a toy away from your child because she was throwing it, you know she's going to be mad. Ask her how she feels. Tell her that it's okay to tell you whether she's mad, and let her know that you won't be angry. Then ask her why she's mad. This strategy teaches your kids that they can talk to you honestly without you getting upset or yelling. Your part in this business is that you must be prepared for this kind of input from your children.

A second way of encouraging honesty is avoiding confrontations in which telling a lie is made easy for your child. Instead of saying, "Simon, did you color on the wall?" say, "Simon, you know you're not suppose to color on the wall." Avoid direct confrontation when you already know the answer. Asking him if he colored on the walls, when you saw him do it, sets your child up to tell a lie. Don't put your kids in situations where fibbing is easier than telling the truth. Even as an adult, when someone asks whether you ate the last chocolate chip cookie, you get a little nervous — like maybe you did something wrong. Learn, however, to stick out your chest and proudly announce, "Yes! I ate the last cookie, and I must be honest, it was the best cookie out of the whole package."

Now, if Emily really didn't color on the wall, she can easily say, "But, Mom, I didn't color on the wall; it was Dad!" Figures.

The third and most important way of teaching honesty is being honest yourself. Don't ever lie to your children. You're setting an example. When you lie to your children, they'll think that it's okay to lie. But, on the other hand, when your children lie to you, you get mad. You can't have double standards.

Thinking that you'd never lie to your children is easy. However, you must be careful about unintentional lies (see Table 1): "I'll be back in just a few minutes" — and you're gone for several hours. These kinds of white lies can teach your kids not to trust you.

Table 1: Traditional White Lies

White lie

Truth

"It's just medicine. It tastes good!"

It tastes like lighter fluid.

"This won't hurt."

Gestapo-approved torture tactic.

"I just have to grab one thing from the store."

Two hours later, you own the store.

"We're going to Aunt Mildred's."

Any time at Aunt Mildred's is a long time. We won't stay long.

The correct ways to make the intended statements represented by the white lies in Table 1 are:

1. "The medicine helps to make you feel better."

2. Not saying anything about pain is best. When you can't get away with that strategy, say, "This may not feel so good."

3. Either grab your one thing and leave or say, "I have some shopping to do. I don't know how long it's going to take."

4. "We're going to Aunt Mildred's. We'll leave by 11:30." Show your children on the clock what 11:30 looks like when they don't know.

Kidding and teasing can be fun. Everyone does it and thinks that it's a hoot. But be careful not to overdo the kidding with your kids. They don't have the knowledge and experience to determine what's a joke and what isn't, so they take everything you say to heart. When your kids get to the point where they follow everything that you say by asking, "Really?" then perhaps you ought to hold off on some of the joking until they start believing what you say without questioning it.

Being responsible boys and girls

Teaching your children responsibility starts out with small tasks and chores. When your children are old enough to understand simple commands, start giving them a job or two. Now, that doesn't mean sending your 2-year-old out for a paper route. Rather, begin with simple tasks. Ask them to give the book to Grandma, take the paper to the trash, and put the spoon in the drawer. After they've completed the jobs, let them know what a terrific job they did. Give them lots of praise — and, of course, hugs and kisses. Your children will beam when they realize that they've completed a task that made you happy.

As your kids grow older, you can start adding to their responsibilities. Teach them how to make their beds and put their dirty clothes in the hamper. You're not only developing their sense of responsibility, but you're also starting good habits and teaching them valuable lessons about how important it is for everyone to help clean up around the house.

An important part of teaching chores to your children is to do the chores with them until they understand how you want the chores done. After they've learned how to do their chores, follow up by making sure that they don't start slacking off. They'll need your constant supervision for a long time — even though they may think they don't need it.

Avoid giving money for housework. Paying your child to make their bed leads down a path you don't want to go. Your kids need to know that all family members must work together as a family; therefore, everyone is expected to help with chores. When you want to pay your children for work, give them extra work like raking the yard or painting the doghouse or additional household chores that are not a part of their usual chore list, like washing windows.

Make tasks and responsibilities fun. Your kids will enjoy doing them more when you turn setting the table into a game, or picking up clothes into a race. When giving your children responsibilities, avoid the let-me-help-you-with-that syndrome. Your children need find out how to handle small tasks and may not want you to help.

Sometimes your younger kids may be too preoccupied with something to want to stop and help you. That's okay. You can't force a 2-year-old to do something if she doesn't want to (short of picking her up and physically moving her). And you really don't want to use force. Having responsibilities should be fun. As your kids get older, you can start using gentle persuasion when they decide they can't break away from Superman Saving the World.

Be aware that your kids may go through a stage when they don't want to handle their responsibilities. Don't let them whine their way out of their jobs. And don't let them put their jobs off until later. This behavior starts them down that road to procrastination.

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