Honesty: Learning the Difference Between Make-Believe and Reality

Honesty is one of those abstract concepts that children come to understand over time and through experience. Learning about honesty is a little more difficult because when you’re young, your imagination has no boundaries. You play tag with imaginary friends in the backyard; build castles fit for kings and queens out of sheets, pillows and chairs; and make parents check for those big, scary monsters that live under the bed. A child’s creativity is quite spectacular – it’s not hard for him to think outside the box because he’s still building what’s in it.

Be careful not to stifle your child’s natural tendency to make up stories because this is an important step in cognitive development. Living in these fantasy worlds as youngsters can actually help develop a better understanding of reality. Watching a child engage in imaginative play is one of the best ways to gain insight into where that child is developmentally and what she is trying to understand better.

Just as much as we want our children to build their imaginations, we also want to encourage honesty in their words and actions. How do we as parents support our children’s imaginations and their make-believe stories while also teaching them about honesty and what’s real? Help your child learn about honesty with these helpful tips:

Be a role model.Your child admires and looks up to you so it’s very important to be an honest role model for him. If a telemarketer calls during family dinner time, think twice before you say, “Tell them I’m not home, honey.” Your child will pick up on these actions and could come to think it’s okay to not to tell the truth to get out of something. Children are very aware of what’s happening around them.

Encouragement is key. Make it clear to your child that it’s always safe to tell you the truth, especially when the information is useful. Respond with, “Thank you for telling me that. You really help me understand when you tell me the truth.” Giving specific positive feedback for truthful actions will encourage your child to continue being honest.

Don’t make promises you won’t keep. Be aware of the messages you send your child if you don’t keep your own promises. Don’t promise a trip to the swimming pool after school unless you actually intend to go. Be as honest with your child as you want her to be with you.

Talk it out. When you read a book, discuss whether the story could really happen or not. Don’t try to convince your child that a story couldn’t be real. Find out why he thinks it is and have a conversation with him on the difference between real and make-believe.

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