Do you know what integrity is? Sure, you as an adult can throw big words around like honesty, authenticity, accountability…but now imagine your brain is a 4 year old’s. It’s all gobble-dy-gook as my mom would say.
So how can you talk about, and teach, something that is virtually indefinable for a tot?
This is why I ask. The other day in the bath, I totally caught my older daughter lying and at first it really bummed me out. Oh, she’d lied before because kids do. And for most it’s actually appropriate in terms of testing boundaries. But still.
I threw words at her like lie, lying, truth, honesty, integrity…then I stopped myself and asked her what a lie is. You know what she said? Nothing. She had no clue. I’d been lecturing her – and it wasn’t the first time – and my words were gobble-dy-gook.
OK, back to the beginning.
Unfortunately – and this makes me sad to write because I’m sooooo guilty of all these things – we can inadvertently teach our children to NOT have integrity much easier than we teach them TO have integrity. How? Let’s test our own integrity…
1. Being late. Punctuality – being on time – is a sign of respect and value, trustworthiness and fairness. It shows that you value your time, you value other people’s time. I’m chronically late. I give lots of leeway to parents of the under 5 set because inevitably lateness comes with the territory, but lateness sends a loud message that what I agree to (the meeting time) isn’t what I actually do.
2. Teaching your kids to lie. NASA (or the CIA) should tap into the inner workings of children’s ear drums because they can hear the slightest of lies from rooms away. You know, when you are on the phone and too tired to go to your mom’s to help her change the lightbulb you promised you’d help with. Instead of saying your truth, you come up with some lame excuse.
Kids hear that and think it’s OK to lie. (Other parenting “lying” examples: fibbing your child’s age to get a discounted ticket, exaggerating, keeping that lost toy from the playground, saying they can have ice cream after picking up their room and then “forgetting”…all small acts, but still.)
3. Pretending. When your face is buried in your smart phone, you are not actively listening. In fact, you are pretending to listen. To put it bluntly, your are not being honest or authentic when you are pretending. And it’s more than just the phone. Insisting your child pretend to like a gift, even when they don’t. Pretending to be happy to see someone just after you complained bitterly about seeing them.
4. Exaggerating. By taking even something true and stretching it bigger or smaller than it is, you are lying.
Listen, I do these things. I’m not trying to be all judgey, standing safely on my soap box. What I’m saying is that parenting is hard work and we do the best we can. But our actions teach lessons as much as our mouths do. And this sucks.
I mention all this because it would be difficult to give a list on teaching integrity if our actions as parents undermine the list. That’s not integrated. That’s not authentic. That’s not honest.
Is this a ridiculous standard to hold one’s self to? YES. Yes, it is. Integrity sucks. There, I said it. It sucks eggs.
On a brighter note, here’s is an incomplete list of things you can do to promote your kid’s integrity (and maybe even your own in the process?!?)
1. Practice making choices. When age and developmentally appropriate, have your child make choices. The act of “deciding” something taps into one’s authentic self. That authentic self is either honored or ignored, but just by having your child choose, you are making your child recognize his or her inner self.
2. Reward effort. With report cards or other measures of performance, focus on the effort. Talk about how your child feels about the getting to the outcome.
3. Confront dishonesty with a compassionate touch. While your first instinct might be to come down hard, take a step back and see why your child cheated, lied or did whatever dishonest thing they did. It’s kind of like focusing on the effort not the outcome.
4. Realize this is hard work. All kids will have times when they show integrity and times when they don’t. It’s a process. It’s effort.
The best thing about having to work on your own integrity while trying to teach it to your child is that you can absolutely use your own actions as teaching moments.
photo credit: deflam