Our children see dishonesty every day. Their sibling may tell a lie to get out of trouble. A classmate may cheat during an examination to get a passing grade. The kid who lives next door might steal a piece of candy from the corner store. That’s not even counting the dishonesty that they see on television.
Integrity is not exactly something that equates with instant gratification. Maintaining integrity can sometimes result in ridicule, pain and sacrifice. It’s owning up to mistakes that many would rather hide. It’s playing the long game instead of taking shortcuts.
This is why it can be challenging to teach integrity to our children. Fortunately, as their parents or guardians, we have the most influence over how they grow up.
Before anything else, we should look within ourselves and how we treat our children. When I first started to teach martial arts, I examined how I dealt with my students, I found that I was sometimes quick to punish when something went wrong and seldom encouraged them when things went right. This is probably where the adage “when I do something wrong, nobody forgets; when I do something right, nobody remembers” comes from.
When the going gets tough, do remember to praise them for honesty. If a student fails an exam, for instance, I’ll give them a one-on-one talk to tell them to do better next time. But I do say that I’m glad they didn’t cheat. Then, I’ll both ask and coach them on how they can improve. This is important as it gives children the reassurance that life does not end with one mistake.
Even when things do go right, like when they hand over discovered money to the lost-and-found, don’t forget to praise them and teach other children this example. This helps teach children that, above all other things, honesty is desirable. This also helps them appreciate rewards such as honor, learning and discovery rather than money or praise. The more you reinforce it, the more our children will be encouraged to have integrity.
If they see dishonesty on television, point it out and ask your child what they think about it. In the last Kung Fu Panda movie, Po’s father lies to him that all pandas are masters of chi. He does this to convince Po to go to the panda village and out of trouble. When I asked one of my students what he thought about it, he replied “He meant well, but Po will be hurt when he finds out.” This exercise helps them understand that dishonesty may seem like a good idea at times but can be damaging in the long run.
Finally, lead them by example. Last week we had a discussion in class about integrity. I explained how once I went to the bank and the cashier gave me a $100 too much. I didn’t realized this right away either because bills were stuck together but when I arrived home I discovered it. While most people would keep the money as “it wasn’t my fault” and “nobody will know” I returned the money back to the teller. She made my day when she told me she would have been fired for stealing. In the end remember it doesn’t matter who’s right, it matter what’s right!