The word "integrity" seems to be an abstract ideal in our society. Everybody has a different idea about what it actually means. Maybe that's because it's been a disappearing quality in recent generations. But as a parent, teaching your child how to act with integrity is vital for their development. You don't want your child to become a person who breaks promises, lies and has no concern for others. After all, you're raising a child, not a politician. Luckily, there are some things you can do to prevent your child from growing up and appearing on "Cops" or "Jerry Springer." Follow these suggestions to raise a child that is full of integrity.
- Know what the word "integrity" means. The term means more than just being honest. Integrity refers to a person's innermost characteristics and staying true to their beliefs. People who have integrity say what they mean and mean what they say. True integrity comes from honesty, taking personal responsibility and adhering to a code of moral values. You can't just throw around the word "integrity" and expect your child to know what it means if you don't know what it means yourself.
- Be the example. Children learn their character traits best by watching others. Who better to watch than their father? Fathers are the role models in the household and they need to act that way. If you're doing shady business deals, cheating on your taxes or not practicing what you're preaching, your children will see that and pick it up as one of their traits as well. Even everyday things like running red lights when nobody is around, leaving a small tip for your waitress or taking the extra change that the cashier at the grocery store gives you shows a lack of integrity, too. Although these might seem like trivial things to you, they can still have a huge impact on an observant child. If you're going to act without integrity, don't let your children see it. The best thing to do is just act with integrity all the time - even when they're not watching.
- Keep your promises. A child's memory is unbelievable. They might not remember to eat their vegetables in the cafeteria at school, but they'll remember two weeks ago when you said you'd take them to the baseball game. If you break that promise, they're going to remember it for years (and maybe even a lifetime). Keeping your word is part of showing integrity, so be sure to follow through with your promises at all costs. If it's just impossible to keep your promise, discuss the situation with your child and see if they'll let you "off the hook." But make sure this is more of the exception rather than the rule when you say you'll do something.
- Teach friendship skills. Socializing and interacting with other children will do wonders for teaching them integrity. If you have young children, supervise their playtime and make sure they share with other children. Make sure they understand the benefits of sharing so they'll be sure to do it even when you're not around. For older children, teach them the differences between being a "good friend" who has concern for others and being a "bad friend" or an acquaintance. By using friendships as teaching moments, your child will learn that a huge part of integrity is to treat others the same way they'd like to be treated themselves.
- Instill empathy and compassion. These are two main characteristics of integrity because it teaches children to put themselves in "someone else's shoes." It also gives them an idea of how other people feel in situations where there is a lack of integrity. If you catch your child making fun of another child on the playground, try to get them to understand how that other child feels when they get ridiculed. If you find out that your child's friend has a sick family member, ask your child how they would feel if one of their family members were sick. By doing this, your child might have a totally different perspective on their actions and show more integrity when dealing with these types of situations.
- Don't turn the TV off. Well, turn it off sometimes. But watching TV with your child provides a plethora of teaching moments for teaching your children integrity and character-driven values. When you see Britney Spears or Paris Hilton frolicking around half naked, it's a great moment to teach your daughter why that type of behavior is unacceptable. When your son sees his favorite ball player being questioned about steroid abuse, it's a great time to explain why drugs are dangerous and unacceptable. You can also find everyday examples all around you if you just look for them. Whenever you see something that conflicts with the core values you want your child to have, point it out to your child and explain why they shouldn't do that. Don't intentionally expose your children to the bad behavior, though. There's no need to rent rated-R movies or take your child to "the wrong side of town" when you can find dozens of teaching moments surrounding you every day.
- Use your faith. If you belong to a church, use the values from your faith to instill a sense of integrity into your children's character. Churches and religious materials are known for teaching character and integrity. Many parents teach their children that they can go to heaven if they live a life of integrity. If this works with your child, use it. But it's also good for them to see a group of people living the same values that you're trying to teach them at home.
- Teach individuality. Many kids will get into trouble by simply following the crowd. They don't want to be different because they want acceptance from their peers. But you can teach your child that being different is also a great character trait. They don't have to be like everybody else to have integrity and they certainly don't have to break the law or get into trouble to be "cool."