Tips for Building Kids with Integrity
The Importance of Building Character — From a Mom who has been There.
Part Two: Integrity — The American Idol of Character
As I write this blog post, I am on an airplane flying to Florida to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday. I’m pretty sure if I stood up and asked the 14 people in the seats surrounding me to pick a word that revealed a person’s character, at least half of them would choose the word “integrity” — what we have always defined as “what a person is when no one is looking.”
Integrity is the superstar of character building. It’s the celebrity face on the front cover of a person’s reputation, radiating honesty, honor, and reliability. You may be able to struggle with other character traits like poise, endurance, or even courage, but a reputation void of integrity is a bad one.
As moms, we want our children to grow up to be men and women of integrity. We know if they don’t, life will become very complicated and disappointing for not only them, but for all who depend upon them. Teaching our children to walk in integrity is the compassionate response of a loving parent because we know it will save them from the high cost of making bad choices in their relationships, their jobs, and their walk with the Lord.
In Part One of this series, The Importance of Building Character, I said that character development goes against our child’s bent toward selfishness and self-gratification. Our kids are born liars. No parent has to sit their child down on the couch and say, “Okay, honey, today I’m going to teach you how to lie.” No, they are good at it right out of the blocks. The nuanced skill of a twoyear-old to lay one on you is, quite frankly, admirable.
Our job as moms is to make them bad liars — to catch them every time and hold them accountable. In order to build the character trait of integrity into their hearts, we need to make telling the truth, even with the negative consequences, more attractive than telling a lie. Doing this takes a “hands-on” parent who is in touch with every aspect of a child’s life and committed to the child’s best and the hard work that commitment requires.
I remember walking into our living room one evening to discover three big holes in our brand new drapes. Assuming that Tim hadn’t taken the scissors to them, I went to find our two-and-a-half-year-old firstborn. When I told her that I had found the holes in the curtains, the denial came immediately. “I didn’t do it, Mommy. Someone else did it.” Unfortunately for her, she was an only child at that point, and there was no little brother to blame it on. That incident was an early indication that, like the rest of us, integrity was not her default mode.
She was caught in a lie, and I had a choice: to let her cute dialogue of denial persuade me to give her a pass on this lack of integrity or to do the hard and unpleasant work of making her a bad liar. To this day, this child who is now a mom herself is a terrible liar, and it started then.
My flight to Florida will be arriving soon, so I guess I’d better land this plane on building the character trait of integrity into our children’s hearts. As me and my five siblings assemble to celebrate my mom’s 80 birthday, I can’t help but think what this gathering may have been like if she hadn’t done the hard work that goes with building character into all of our lives.
Part of her legacy is the priority she placed on integrity and the example she set for her six children, her 15 grandchildren, and now her four great-grandchildren to follow. That’s the thing about integrity; it hangs around a long time — for better or for worse.
So, as we commit to building character into the hearts of our children, here are some intentional things you can do to help your children embrace integrity.
- Make it easy for them to tell the truth.
Don’t use entrapment. If you know they did something, don’t ask them if they did it; ask them why they did it.
- When they lie, make it easy for them to come clean.
No condemnation or shaming. Administer the consequences, and wipe the slate clean.
- Make the expectations you have of your child realistic and age-appropriate.
If they are not, then you encourage a child to lie because he or she doesn’t want to disappoint you or get in trouble for not measuring up.
- Consequences are the best motivation to tell the truth.
They should be fair, swift, and fitting the offense. In our house, lying is a felony, so consequences are memorable.
- Project a future of integrity for your child.
When they have failed, restore them with a hug and a smile. Assure them that you are going to do everything you can to help them be a truth teller.
- Remember, you are the high-water mark when it comes to your children’s character.
Don’t expect anything out of them that you aren’t modeling consistently for them.
- Just like any habit, integrity gets easier with practice.
“The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him!” Proverbs 20:7
Below are some hands-on ways to teach integrity to your child.
- Drive the speed limit.
- Never ask your children to lie for you.
- Apologize when you wrong your children.
- Design a few dilemmas for them to see if they are developing integrity (i.e., see if they give you the change from a purchase they made with your money).
- Never tolerate even the smallest lie.
- Pick someone out of the newspaper who committed a crime and ask the kids’ opinions about it.
- Fathers, never allow your children to be disrespectful or rude to their mother.
- Set up tasks that require their follow-through without supervision, and see if they carry out instructions on their own.
- Take your children to visit their ancestors’ graves. If you know any anecdotes about these ancestors (whether positive or negative), take time to share a few stories.
- Have them memorize 20 verses on integrity. (You might want to start with the Ten Commandments.)