How to teach children to be honest

I suggest the following:

Be an example. Children who are reared within the Church environment are blessed to have adults around them who would, hopefully, practice honesty. This example would be the best teacher of all. Be honest with the child and with everyone else. If you happen to be dishonest, you must apologize as soon as possible and make every effort to rebuild the lost trust.

Establish a relationship of trust with children when they are very young. Be straight with them when they ask you questions. Do not dismiss the child's interest because you are not ready to answer a particular question. And do not avoid the child's interest if you feel that the time is not right for the child to know something. You may be wrong in thinking that the time is not right and the child will lose trust in you.

Be aware of the child's honesty and offer praise appropriately. This will maintain a good social/emotional relationship.

Avoid becoming angry if a child is dishonest. Many adults become outraged when they realize their child is dishonest or has been dishonest to them personally. It is a crucial mistake for the adult to display such anger. Children who are dishonest are usually dishonest for a variety of reasons, some of which may be brought about by the adults themselves.

Deal with the child according to her/his age and cognitive development. This will obviously vary enormously as a 3-year-old will not have the cognitive understanding of a 15-year-old, but emotionally a 15-year-old might need the same love, sympathy and gentleness as a 3-year-old. - Edna Crabbere, Roanoke, Va.

What we did:

Taught by mother

When I was 7 years old, I was sent to the store on an errand by my Aunt Beth. I carried the money and a note in a handkerchief. In the store, Mr. Anderson read the note, put the order in a small bag and handed me the change, 35 cents.

Just when I was ready to leave, I saw a toy mama duck and her babies. Mr. Anderson put them on the counter and pulled them with a string. The mama duck waddled, quacked and her babies followed. I just had to have this wonderful toy. Mr. Anderson said it was 35 cents, just the amount of change I had. I gave him the money and left pulling the toy.

When I got home, Aunt Beth asked where the toy came from. I told her. She said, "Well, the money wasn't yours, so I'll put it up until your mama comes home." When she got home, Mama told me, "We don't use other people's money without asking."

The next day, she had me return the duck. The money seemed to burn my hand all the way home. I was glad to give it back to Mama. I told her I would never again take what wasn't mine. She put her arms around me, hugged me close and told me how proud she was and how much she loved me. - Maurine Harker Smith, Santaquin, Utah

Powerful lesson

Children learn by seeing us in action. It doesn't matter if I spend most family home evenings teaching honesty if, when the phone rings and I don't want to talk, I say, "Tell her I'm not here." Children learn what they live. An extra trip to town to return $1 to a store clerk who gave you too much money or giving a store owner 75 cents for a drink that came out of the pop machine without money teach honesty in a powerful way. Children watch what we do more than they listen to what we say.

I have a son in college. He said the registration office had him listed as an in-state student, instead of an out-of-state student and charged him a lot less to register. He didn't hesitate to say that isn't right and to pay the correct amount. I was more proud of him for being honest than I would have been if he had saved me a lot of money. There is not a price that can be put on honesty and true integrity. - Deanie Martino, Aubrey, Texas

Lesson in honesty

Some years ago, my sister took her granddaughter to a special movie to celebrate her 12th birthday. As she was purchasing the tickets, the girl looked up at her grandmother and said, "Well, I can still go as a young child. I'm not too tall."

My sister looked into her eyes and asked, "How old are you today?"

She answered, "Today I am 12."

"All right," my sister responded, "then we will pay the proper amount for your age."

No fuss was made. The tickets were purchased, and a great lesson in honesty was learned. - June A. Blood, San Diego, Calif.

Right thing to do

I believe that the key for us was setting the example. We not only did what was legal, but also what was right, what was ethical - all the time. There are always temptations to cut corners, or use a technicality, to save a little here and there. But those little pairs of eyes are always watching. When the children asked why we were doing something a certain way or not taking advantage, we would explain what was the right thing to do and how our family does things.

Our reward today is three very honest children. They may not be perfect, but when one of them found a wallet in a theater restroom, he promptly took it to the nearest employees, without being told the right thing to do. He didn't know that two larger pairs of eye were watching. He didn't need to. - Thomas A. Adams, Salt Lake City, Utah

Solid foundation

Teach children trust. You have to have trust and love, then honesty is easier. As long as a person can trust, he or she is more apt to be honest. And I believe love and trust go together. When you teach, teach with love.

Start teaching honesty and trust when children are young. Children learn to trust from the time they are tiny infants. I have striven to be close to my children from the time they are very young by following the prophet's counsel to stay at home.

Be honest yourself and teach by example. Be kind, but strong and firm in teaching correct principles. In addition, children need to see that you're honest with yourself. The saying by Shakespeare, "To thine own self be true," applies.

Be honest with God. You can't be honest with God until you love and trust Him. Again, this begins in infancy.

When people are tempted to be dishonest, making the right choice will be easier because they already have a solid foundation. - Terri Webb, Fairview, Wyo.

How to checklist:

1 Be example; be honest in own life, with your children.

2 Praise when a child is honest; teach reason for honesty.

3 Correct dishonesty with love, gentleness; avoid anger.

4 Teach according to a child's development, understanding.


May 2 "How to help a loved one addicted to prescription drugs."

May 9 "How to remain enthusiastic about motherhood."

May 16 "How to help young people avoid movies of questionable content."

May 23 "How to become more involved in political, community and government affairs."

May 30 "How to find joy in the morning."

June 6 "How to help heal a family after a loved one has caused deep hurt."

Also interested in letters on these topics: "How to supplement your regular income," "How to rear children in light and truth," "How to avoid greed," "How to be more resilient in day-to-day life."

Had any good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110, send fax to (801) 237-2524 or use internet E-mail: Please include a name and phone number. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Due to limited space, some contributions may not be used; those used should not be regarded as official Church doctrine or policy. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.

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