Most people would probably agree that it's important to teach honesty and integrity to young children, but teaching such concepts can be challenging. Concepts like "truth" and "honesty" can be abstract and elusive to young children, who will benefit from identifying the behaviour of characters in a story. Older children understand what honesty is, but sometimes struggle with telling the truth in sticky situations. You can use fun activities, stories, songs, images and role playing to reinforce the importance of telling the truth. Lessons can be modified for children of various ages and circumstances to teach them, as William Shakespeare said, that "honesty is the best policy."
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Present stories to children with characters who tell the truth and other stories about characters don't and the consequences of each of these types of actions. Facilitate a discussion about how that character and others in the story might have felt as a result of their actions. Ask children to share stories about their own lives when someone lied to them or told the truth. One well-known story about honesty is "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." It's a classic tale that emphasises the lack of trust that is inspired in people when you lie. Another story called "The Cherry Tree" describes a young George Washington who learns a lesson about telling the truth. Present both stories and compare and contrast them with children.
In small groups, have children put together skits that emphasise the concepts of honesty and integrity. Discuss different forms of dishonesty and what the lack of honesty can do to damage a relationship. Children might need prompts to help them get started with the skits. Assign one group to present a skit about stealing, another to act out a "little white lie" and another to do a skit about not telling the truth. One adult should be assigned to each group of smaller children, but older children can write scripts, assemble costumes and make props on their own. Older children can put on these skits for students in younger grades.
Lead a discussion with kids about good behaviour and bad behaviour, truth and deception and both the positive and negative of different types of behaviour. Ask kids what they think the reward for telling the truth should be and what a fair consequence for lying should be. Have each child make a colourful and congratulatory certificate for good behaviour. They can even promise a prize for the best description. Keep the certificates on file and give them out to children when you catch them telling the truth --- especially if it's done in a difficult circumstance. Admitting mistakes and reporting wrongdoings can be socially awkward, but if a child is held in high esteem, others might be more likely to follow her lead.
Older children can benefit from movies that revolve around the importance of honesty. Show a movie with narrative that involves a lot of moral decisions to the class and have a discussion about the characters. Ask them "What if..." questions relating to the characters and ask them to rewrite the story so that the characters make more honest choices. Discuss how lives can be permanently affected by both truth and lies.
Show children that you value honesty by telling the truth. Your honest behaviour will show them that living with integrity isn't just something for characters in a movie. If they witness you lying, you will be falling into the "Do as I say, not as I do" method of teaching or parenting, which isn't especially effective. When we model desirable behaviour for our children, we show them what we expect.
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