Character Teaching Your Three-Year-Old the Importance of Honesty

Honesty means we are truthful in what we say and do.  It means people can rely on us and is the basis of a trusting relationship. For a three-year-old, honesty looks like responding truthfully when asked about a situation, such as “Can you tell me why your sister is crying right now?” or “Let’s talk about how this marker got on the wall.” At this age, kids sometimes deny misbehavior, though not necessarily in a deliberate effort to deceive. From the perspective of young children, if they say they didn’t do it, then their parents won’t be mad, and the behavior will be erased! 

Help your child understand what it means to be honest:

Model Honesty

Kids watch and model adult behavior. A study from the University of California, San Diego, found that elementary schoolchildren who heard a lie from an adult about the presence of candy in another room were more likely to lie to cover up their misbehavior. If we want our children to be honest, we need to be good examples of honesty. 

Talk About Honesty in Books or Media

When you are reading or watching together, point out when characters tell the truth — and when they don't. Use characters to talk about why it's important to tell adults when they need help. It might sound like this: “Oh, she lost her mom's necklace and she feels sad. What should she do? . . . . Yes, she could tell her mom what happened and then they could look for it together. That's being honest.”

Explain What It Means to “Tell the Truth”

At this age, kids don’t always know the difference between truth and fiction. In their mind, if they don't tell you they broke something, you won't know and the problem will magically disappear. Begin to teach them the concept of "honesty" and "truth" through simple, supportive conversations. It might sound like this:

  • "In this family, if we break something, we say, 'I did it.' That's telling the truth. And then we clean it up together!"
  • "You took your brother's toy and now he's crying? Thank you for telling me that. You told the truth. Now let's go give it back and help him feel better."

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