We have a lot of expectations in our household. Be kind. Be respectful. Don’t sass, don’t call names, don’t forget to do your homework. But one rule rises above the rest.
We have always told our kids we are less concerned with their mistakes than we are with their honesty about those mistakes. In other words, if you did something wrong, fess up. Because lying about it will only make things worse.
Here are three principles to follow in order to empower our kids to be honest.
1. Perfection is not the goal. Honesty is.
Kids need to know it’s okay to make mistakes, to slip up, to choose poorly from time to time. We are all a work in progress, and Jesus came to cover our sins because He knows we cannot be perfect this side of heaven. So let’s not allow our kids to think the goal is to do everything right all the time. If they believe they’re going to get nailed for every wrongdoing, they’ll be a lot less motivated to confess.
As parents, we can create forgiving environments in which our kids feel free to admit their mess-ups. By approaching their bad choices as learning opportunities and inviting our children to tell the truth without fear of condemnation, we can encourage and influence their hearts—not just their behavior.
2. Honesty builds trust.
A beautiful byproduct of honesty is trustworthiness, which is essential to healthy family relationships. And it goes both ways. I resolved years ago never to lie to my kids or to disrespect their confidence. I often tell them, “You can talk to me about anything. I am a safe place,” and they believe it because I’ve never proven otherwise. Likewise, when the kids build a track record of honesty with Mom and Dad, we learn to trust them more and more. Love is always unconditional. Trust, however, is earned.
3. Trust gains privileges.
Finally, when I know I can trust my children, they will be rewarded with more leniency. This motivates them to be honest. And sometimes the best way to illustrate this principle is by doling out crazy grace—like Jesus.
Here’s what that looks like in our house. Recently one of my daughters broke a rule—no texting past 9 o’clock. When we confronted her about it, she had two choices: lie and say she hadn’t, or fess up. She chose the latter. So rather than taking away her device as a punishment for breaking the rule, I gave her mercy (in the form of continued texting privileges) as a reward for telling the truth. That is how serious we are about honesty in our family.
Mistakes and poor choices are inevitable. They’re a normal part of growing up. Honesty, however, is a virtue. And I value it more than perfect behavior. I encourage you to do the same. Let’s take steps to empower our kids toward honesty, for their benefit and, ultimately, for God’s glory.