How Can We, As Parents, Instill Honesty In Our Kids ?

by | Mar 20, 2023

“I’m drawing a pink heart on your tooth,” the pediatric dentist told our three-year-old.

It was a harmless lie uttered to encourage our daughter to be still while he repaired a small cavity in one of her teeth. I marveled at his creativity. This child had a fiercely independent spirit and might decide to clamp her mouth shut and refuse treatment at any moment. The promise of a pink heart on her tooth coupled with the soft, fuzzy blanket covering her body as she laid on the chair in the dentist’s office allowed him to successfully treat her cavity.

Our three-year-old remembered that pink heart a few years later and asked the dentist why she couldn’t see it. He promptly responded that it was visible only through his special dental glasses. I smiled and instantly forgot all about the exchange.

Many years later, when this same child, who was now a young adult, was preparing to have her wisdom teeth removed, she reminded me of this story and spoke accusingly about the dentist who, “lied” to her. I was shocked! Did she know the risks he took to fix her tooth? She could have bitten him at any moment if she decided she didn’t like him poking around in her mouth!

What was he supposed to do? What would you do? How important is it to be perfectly honest, and how do we teach our kids to tell the truth, especially in a world filled with lies?

It’s a daunting task to instill character in your children because it requires reaching their heart. In my mind, honesty is set apart from all other character traits, because it’s the one attribute that the enemy knew would be our most vulnerable.

Research shows that people are pre-disposed one way or another to each of the two other character traits we are discussing this semester, courage, and contentment. Some babies are naturally more content than others and that pre-disposition toward contentment seems to accompany them into their maturity. A tendency either toward or away from courage appears when our kids get a bit older, and we see their propensity to take risks. But unlike courage or contentment, honesty comes from the heart. 


 “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”

(ESV) Jeremiah 17:9.

We all start at ground zero for honesty, and nowhere is this truer than in the “me centered” toddler world. Honesty includes more than telling the truth. It encompasses deceitful behavior, stealing, and cheating. Toddlers steal toys from one another, they sneak candy, and some will respond, “no” when asked if they need a diaper change. 

As if starting at the wrong end of the scale regarding honesty wasn’t enough, we have another obstacle to navigate. 

We are naturally motivated to seek courage and contentment because both characteristics are self-serving. We experience a net- gain from having them. Courage provides rewards, such as a sense of satisfaction for standing up for our beliefs, deeper intimacy for bravely broaching a sensitive conversation, or taken in another direction, a thrill of getting away with something immoral. Likewise, contentment is intrinsically preferred over discontentment. In fact, the enemy knows we would so desperately yearn for contentment, that he entices us away from true contentment with many harmful or shallow distractions. We are motivated to pursue both courage and contentment because they offer us selfish gain. But honesty comes with a price. It carries the potential for personal loss. 

Assuming you aren’t caught, shaving money off your tax return, fudging your age, cheating on a test, denying your actions, and lying about your past all foster selfish gain. Dishonesty can be rewarding, while honesty may cost us. 

So why be honest? 

 “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.”

1 Peter, 3:10 (NIV)

Peter knew that being honest gives us a clear conscious, peace of mind, and favor with God.

Life is good when we have a clear conscious and peace of mind. God knew this, and he knew that dishonesty would produce shame, guilt, and condemnation in our spirit. If we don’t accomplish something honestly, we know deep down that we don’t really deserve it, and that robs us of a sense of achievement. Learning to believe in themselves is critically important in the development of a child, and they won’t develop confidence in themselves if they don’t honestly deserve their reward.

So how do we instill honesty in our children? As with most things, more is caught than taught. How honest are you? Are you quick to admit you’re wrong? Do you pay your fair share? Do you return things that you’ve borrowed? Do you speak an unpopular truth, and do you confess and make amends for your mistakes?

If we want to encourage our kids to be honest, we need to set the example ourselves. In addition to modeling honesty, we can emphasize character in our parenting more than other worthy achievements. In my family, we consistently said we would rather our kids earn an honest B than a dishonest A. We talked about how God made them perfectly just the way they are, and we often reminded them that God has good plans for them. You can’t experience God’s plan if you are manipulating circumstances to chase after your own plan. 

We also celebrated the truth and were lenient with punishment after a confession. Little kids aren’t very good at covering up their mistakes. You can start to instill honesty when they are very young because it’s fairly easy to discern when they have lied. We pushed for an admission of guilt when it was apparent, and then we used that disclosure as an opportunity to explain the benefits of telling the truth. 

When we are honest, God says….

We will be “blessed”. (Matt 5:8)

It will serve us well. (Prov 11:3)

We will be “kept safe”. (Prov 28:18)

“Good will come to us”. (Psalm 112:5)

We will have the “peace of God”. (Phil 4:8-9)

We will have “favor with God”. (2 Tim 2:15)

There are many verses about the fact that honesty “pleases the Lord”. (Prov 12:22, Prov 21:30)

As the kids got older and the line between truth and lying became a bit grayer, we often pointed out that they can fool us, but God will always know the truth.

When we instill honesty in our children, we lay the groundwork for many other character traits as well, because honesty imparts a sense of doing the right thing, and that ignites what God placed in their heart, a moral compass.

So how do we, as parents, teach honesty to our children?

  • Celebrate honesty. 
  • Be lenient in confession.
  • Model it yourself.
  • Choose character over worldly success.
  • Have open conversations.
  • Make it more enticing to store up treasures in heaven than to succeed in the world. 

Building a firm foundation upon which other character qualities can more easily be added is vitally important because our character is the only thing we take with us to heaven, not our worldly accomplishments, our financial successes, or our social status. That alone, makes the sacrifice of teaching our kids to be honest an important and worthy pursuit, and much more rewarding than the promise of a pink heart drawn on their tooth. 

If you want to learn more about how to instill honesty and other Godly qualities in your children, check out this Spotify podcast:

How Can We Shape Character In Our Kids ?

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