“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Ecclesiastes 3:1.
On Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, we celebrate the lives of two famous presidents, George Washington whose birthday is Feb. 22 and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is Feb. 12. Every year early-childhood teachers look forward to celebrating the lives of both these famous presidents because history values the integrity and honesty that both these men displayed. Sure, classes enjoy doing the crafts of presidential silhouettes, coloring over the quarter for George Washington and coloring over copper pennies with Abraham Lincoln’s head and face on it. They also enjoy making log cabins, top hats and eating cherry pie or tarts, to celebrate the fact that George Washington told the truth to his father about cutting down the cherry tree. Too, we teach our young students that Abraham Lincoln was honest. Even as a young man, he had taken a few more cents from a customer on a product that was more than what was due. He closed the store and walked quite a long distance to return the correct change to the customer. One of his long-living quotations is that, “truth is your truest friend.”
We, as parents, grandparents and teachers, can cling to the legacy both these men lived and left behind. I would like to revisit teaching honesty to young children on a developmental level and approach.
Don’t punish a young child to tell the truth, if he/she doesn’t understand what truth actually means. In early childhood, the habit of not telling the truth can start as early as toddlerhood or preschool. This is why it is so important as parents and teachers for us to take the time to sit down and teach young children the importance of being honest. This depends on the age of the child in being able to cognitively understand. Young children love to explore. This is a God-given instinct which introduces a young child to new abilities, possibilities, happiness, joy and yes, even sadness. Young children are good little life observers of what gets them into trouble and what doesn’t get them into trouble.
Why do children not tell the truth? This is the time we need to sit down and spend one-on-one time in getting to the root and bottom of why our children may lie. Let’s examine our adult expectations of a child as a parent and teacher.
Children want to please their parents and teachers. Are our expectations too high for our children? Do they fear of getting into trouble if they have done something wrong? As a teacher, I much prefer to have an honest C, D or F on a test from a young student than a dishonest A because they may have cheated or lied. These are things for us to consider in helping to teach and mold our children to do what is right. Also, is the child just wanting their way and they lie? This is where we can engage the child in the truth of the matter and encourage them to think of helping others.
Don’t embarrass a child in front of other children or family if you have caught them in a lie. Have a spot in your home where you and your child can face each other and come to the truth about a circumstance or situation. Hug them and hold them as you prompt them to tell you the truth. If your child does tell the truth, which is a virtue you want to instill and encourage your child for a lifetime, then praise them for telling the truth. If they don’t tell the truth, this is the time to reprimand them in an age-appropriate way where they understand that not telling the truth is unacceptable. Role playing with your children to tell the truth is also a very good way for them to understand that even little white lies can hurt other people and themselves. Teach them that they can experience the peace that telling the truth can bring.
This is a time too that we parents, teachers and grandparents can share real-life experiences of growing up and to share times that you might have been challenged to make the right decision of telling the truth and how it made you feel. Children absolutely love to hear stories of their parents growing up and having the same challenges that they are experiencing.
This is where children will certainly enjoy sharing a fable or fairy tale to explain honesty. Young children really relate to Pinocchio because his nose grows longer when he doesn’t tell the truth. Even though young children may chuckle and laugh at Pinocchio’s nose growing, it still drives in the truth that it is not good to tell fibs or white lies to stay out of trouble.
We live in such a very busy world. Unfortunately, we see dishonesty everywhere, but our children don’t need to experience that if we take the time to MODEL truth. If we consciously try to model life’s truth, that is the best teacher that we can pass down to our children. Just like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, honesty can be a legacy we can pass down to our children.