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Teaching Children the Value of Keeping Their Word

by Dell Markey

Honesty and dependability are among the most important character traits a parent can pass on to a child. A child's ability to keep his word can have an impact on nearly every facet of his life. His friends, parents, teachers and others in his life will judge his character largely based on whether they can trust him to do what he says he will do. It's critical to teach your children the value of keeping their word.

Model Integrity

Like most virtues, the honesty and dependability a child needs in order to keep his word are caught more so than they are taught. The most important part of teaching your child any character trait is to model it for him. Teach your child that it's important to keep his word by keeping yours. When you tell your child you'll do something, make every effort to do so. Your child will remember. To a lesser extent, your child will also see how you are about keeping your word to your partner and others. Children -- especially younger children -- learn character by watching you.

Discuss Honesty and Reliability

Talk to your children about the importance of telling the truth and of doing what they say they'll do. Approach this from a positive angle whenever possible. Often, parents fall into the trap of only addressing honesty and dependability when their child has lied or not followed through on something he said he would do. While those things do need to be addressed, it's more effective to teach kids by paying attention and praising them when they do keep their word. Most children naturally gravitate toward doing the kinds of things that get them attention. If your child gets more attention when he keeps his word than when he doesn't, he'll be less likely to feel the need to seek attention by breaking his word.

Privileges and Responsibility

Teach your children from an early age that demonstrating trustworthiness by keeping their word results in the reward of greater privileges and responsibility. For example, if your child shows that he can be trusted when he says he will do his homework, you can give him the option of going outside to play first and doing the homework after dinnertime. Or, if your child hasn't done a chore that he said he would do, you could insist that all chores are done before he can go to his friend's house. The more your child sees the privileges and responsibilities he wants tied to whether he can be trusted to keep his word, the more likely he is to understand how important it is to be dependable.

Teachable Moments

Kids make mistakes and do things they shouldn't sometimes. Whether they simply forget that they had promised to take the dog out or tell a blatant lie about where they're going to be, you need to be prepared to deal with children occasionally breaking their word. When this happens, try to use the experience as a teachable moment. Point back to other times when he did keep his word and focus on the positive, making sure your child understands that you really do want to trust him.

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