Raising honest children

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By Gregory Ramey, PhD, child psychologist at Dayton Children's and Dayton Daily News columnist

Edition: November 4, 2007 | Topic: Parenting

Raising honest children

Some comic book characters have super strength or x-ray vision, but Wonder Woman had what was perhaps a more powerful tool - a Magic Lasso. Anyone caught within the rope's grasp was compelled to tell the truth. It's interesting to note that this character was created in the 1940s by a Harvard-educated psychologist named William Marston, who was instrumental in the development of the lie detector test. Marston was not only a consultant for DC comics, but contributed to the invention of the systolic blood pressure test as a measure to detect truthfulness. He tried for many years in the 1940s to get the FBI and others interested in this invention.

It's not only the FBI and super heroes who care about honesty. We all want to be around people who are accomplished, funny, energetic, smart and engaging. However, honesty is more important than any of those traits. All relationships are built upon a foundation of being real with others. Without honesty, trusting relationships are impossible.

How can parents raise honest children?

Focus on what matters. I've rarely seen children in my office simply because of issues of dishonesty. Parents seem more concerned with school performance, aggression, attention problems and peer relations. If values really matter, then parents need to spend more time focusing on honesty and trust. When parents try to deal with every possible misbehavior, they communicate that everything is of equal importance, and it is not. Raising an honest child is more important than a child who keeps a clean room.

Talk about values with your children. Send a clear message that honesty is always expected and lying will be seriously punished. Don't be afraid to use that word, punished! Our behavior is strongly influenced by rewards and punishment. If your child lies, act in a strong and decisive manner. Lectures won't work. Your actions are what matter. Send your child a strong and unequivocal message. Lying will not be tolerated in your family.

Don't confuse honesty with disrespect. Don't you find it annoying when someone acts in a belligerent or antagonistic manner and then rationalizes that behavior by remarking that "I'm only being honest?"

Honesty should not be confused with telling anyone at any time how I feel. I may not like my mother-in-law's new dress, but there is no need for me to volunteer that information. Respect means appreciating that others can have views different than mine and there is no need for me to voice my opinion on everything to everyone.

Dealing with the social realities of honesty can be problematic for children as well as for the rest of us. How should children respond when asked about Grandma's new dress? Here's the way I explain this to kids. Lying means saying something that isn't true. Telling Grandma you like her dress when you don't is a lie.

Volunteering your opinion in a place or manner that unnecessarily hurts others is disrespectful. Telling grandma that you hate her new dress is unnecessary. It's fine to say to Grandma that "I'm happy you like your new dress" and say nothing else. These are difficult issues for children to navigate, and they need our guidance and support.

Honest parents raise honest children. We are the most powerful influence in our children's lives. While media and peers have some impact, most kids grow up reflecting our values.

Parenting sometimes feels like a constant test. Every little thing we say or do seems under the magnifying glass of our children's surveillance. We are constant teachers, pressured to always say and do the right thing.

We make mistakes. We all sometimes act in ways we shouldn't. We lie or act dishonestly, and our kids notice this behavior. When this occurs in the presence your children, acknowledge your mistake and discuss how you would handle similar situations in the future.

We don't have a Lasso of Truth to compel honesty in our children, but we need not be victims of a culture of deceit and deception. With a strong moral code and actions to match, we can raise honest children.

Dr. Ramey Gregory Ramey, PhD, is a child psychologist and vice president for outpatient services at The Children's Medical Center of Dayton. For more of his columns, visit www.childrensdayton.org/ramey and join Dr. Ramey on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/drgregramey

©2010 The Children's Medical Center of Dayton. Columns may be reproduced with the permission of Dayton Children's.


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