Friday, April 22, 2016

Simple ways to teach your children integrity

My third article published by The Jakarta Post.
You may find the link here

Or you may read it here:

Last March, we were  invited to a Saint Patrick’s Day party by a friend. A family party; parents gathered together, children played, we talked, we ate and we had fun.
The next morning while we were having breakfast, I found my son to be awfully quiet. He normally is chatty but not that morning. So I asked if something bothered him. He said no. The morning passed, the afternoon passed, and he was still not acting himself. He is too quiet and knowing him I knew something wasn’t right but he would not tell me what it was. He usually very opens to us, especially to me. I had to go out that night and I asked my husband if he could speak with our son about what’s bothering him.  He opened up to my husband.
“What’s wrong, son?”
“Anything bad happened at the party last night?”
“Anything weird happen?”
“You smoked.”

At the party that night, my husband who does not smoke was offered by the host if he’d like to smoke a cigar. The dads at the party when outside to the front yard to smoke cigar, while us wives, and children stayed in the house. Everything was okay until we drove back home. With my big mouth, without realizing the aftermath impact of my curious mind, I asked my husband if he had fun smoking the cigar. My nine years old overheard it and he was upset that his father smoked. He did a research on Google about cigar and discovered that it is as bad as cigarettes.
We had to explain to him that it was not a habit, it’s just a “guy thing” that they do once in awhile.  That night, we failed our son in the lesson of integrity.

As parents, we constantly teach our children about responsibility, fairness, self-reliance, respect, honesty and integrity.  All of these good positive attitudes especially honesty and integrity are not just one act of goodness, but it is a whole character. C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing even if no one is watching”. Having integrity means you are true to yourself and would do nothing that demeans or dishonor you. Many times we talk about the word ‘integrity’ without really grasping the idea what it really means. After that night, I asked myself if I really believe in the importance of modeling a life of integrity that our children can follow. The question remain, how do we as parents should teach our children about integrity? The answer is simple, we need words and actions.
Words.  When we speak to our children, they need to be able to trust that we will be true to our words, we must speak the truth and follow through what we’ve said. This echoes to the reality that we must be careful to let our yes will be yes and our no will be no. We don’t promise them things we can not keep. We don’t tell them things we don’t mean. We must keep that integrity intact with us all the time.

Action. The most obvious, yet most important way to teach them honesty and integrity is in what we do and how we do it. We must lead them by example.
We were at the San Diego zoo last year and there was a big lemur cage that visitors can walk through. There is a sign in front of the cage with restriction; only adults and children age five and older can go inside. Our daughter who at that time was only 2 months away from being five years old technically could not get in but she is very tall for her age. We thought what harm can be done if the four of us went inside the cage? My son read the restriction and objected that his sister who was not five should go inside. We assured him that it was okay. He insisted that we broke the rules by taking her inside the cage, he insisted that we were being dishonest about her real age. Of course we didn’t have any intention to break the rule or to be dishonest, but that’s not how he perceived it. We teach him honesty and he followed through, we’re pleased. The restriction at the zoo was there to keep young children from misbehaving and our daughter is well behaved and we were there to keep an eye on her. That restriction was arbitrary but our son did not understand that. Young children can only perceive black and white. As they grow older we as parents need to help them navigate through the gray areas of life.

We often remind our children about being honest, yet at the zoo we cheated a bit about age. We teach our children that smoking is bad for our health, yet he learned that his father smoked cigar at a party. How often do you tell your kids to drive within the speed limit yet you drive too fast with them in the car? Ever tell your children that electronics are not allowed in the dining table during dinner, but then you’re sitting with them in the middle of dinner only to check important work emails?

The cigar and the restriction at the zoo were the moments of our parenting epiphany. We had one of those “teachable moments” between parents and children but that time, we were the one learning the lesson. I realized that when my husband and I told our kids to “tell the truth” or “to not do something bad”, we were sending an incomplete message. As parents we can go beyond “it’s wrong to tell lies”, we can teach our children telling the truth is good, but living the truth is better.

What do you do to teach your children about integrity?

No comments:

Post a Comment