Teaching honesty and integrity is quite a challenge for most parents. Since we're not always with our children, we can't control what they see and experience away from home. But we can control what they see at home.
If kids see the example of parents who are even occasionally dishonest, they soon learn that fibbing is the fastest way out of a sticky situation and an effective way to get what you want. Unfortunately, they also learn - sooner or later - that parents can't be trusted AND that there are consequences for lying.
But consider the various reasons kids sometimes tell lies. It's usually for the same reasons that adults lie: to conceal guilt or avoid punishment; to impress others or win acceptance; to avoid disapproval; and sometimes kids lie to get someone else in trouble because of jealousy or competitiveness.
They soon learn that compromising their honesty and integrity can be less painful than paying the consequences for their actions.
That nagging conscience that we all possess develops more slowly in some children than in others - depending on their maturity. But the best way to encourage honesty is to catch them being honest or showing integrity in a difficult situation and praising them for it. It's better to catch them telling the truth than focusing on catching them lying.
Teaching honesty and integrity must be repeated in as many creative ways as a parent can come up with, repeating the lessons when they slip up or fall short. Here's a fun game that teaches children the ways that outside influences affect their lives.
Group Size: 3 or more
Age: 3 and up
Materials Needed: flour, dime, drinking glass (preferably plastic), dish towel or newspaper, dinner or butter knife, paper plate
Spread newspaper or a large dish towel on the kitchen table or counter. Place a dime in the center of the bottom of the drinking glass. Scoop flour into the glass, piling it to the brim and pressing it down firmly to make it compact. Place the paper plate on top of the glass and turn them over together on the dishtowel or newspaper. Tap the glass gently, and carefully lift it off. The flour will hopefully remain standing in the shape of the glass with the dime on top. (Repeat if it doesn't stay compact and pack the flour more firmly.)
First, play the game without any moral analogy - simply let everyone have the fun of participating. Each person takes a turn and, with a knife, carefully slices off an edge of the flour tower, being careful not to cut too deeply.
Object of the Game: The object of the game is for the dime to stay on top of the tower and not fall down into it. As each person removes more and more of the flour, the tower becomes narrower and narrower, and the dime's position becomes increasingly precarious. The person whose slice causes the tower to cave in and the dime to drop is eliminated from the game, but he must first remove the fallen coin, using only his lips (or teeth, if necessary). Put the dime in the bottom of the glass and pack it with flour again.
On the next round, you should start by explaining that we can compare the tower of flour to our lives. Like the tower of flour, made up of small particles of flour, we are each made up of a lot of small things: our personalities, our experiences, our abilities, the inherited qualities from our parents, our feelings (simplify these things for young children). Throughout our childhood, we are taught and molded by our parents, friends, and teachers (as the glass molds the flour). The coin at the top of the tower represents the best parts of our character or our goodness, the qualities of honesty and integrity we posses (again, simplify for small children).
Slicing away the tower represents the negative outside influences of the world and the ability they have to chip away at our integrity, to erode our strengths, and to slowly, imperceptibly eat away at our character (point out that there are many positive influences in the world but for now we are talking about the negatives ones).
Finally, if we allow these bad influences (the wrong friends, drinking, drugs, stealing, telling lies, cheating in school) to affect or control us, they will take their toll, causing the best in us to crumble and fall (the coin dropping). When that happens, it is often difficult to come out on top again unless we can find something or someone to help us rebuild and start over (filling the glass and beginning again).
During this part of the activity it is fun to have each player name a bad influence as they take their slice of flour. The child or player can simply say lying or smoking a cigarette or he can make up a little scenario like: Today when Rachel's friends wanted to steal a candy bar from the store, Rachel made the decision to do it with them. Or: David broke a window in a neighbor's house and told everyone he didn't do it and blamed in on another neighbor boy. Again, this can be adjusted according to the age of the the group.