How to Sow the Seeds of Integrity in your Children

We all know children who are not rude but neither are they helpful or kind. They are good students, respectful to teachers and parents, and follow the rules of the house without complaint for the most part. They happily give to charity when the expectations are outlined for them, but they are apathetic to anyone outside of their tight inner circle of friends. They know what is expected of them and they comply.

Integrity goes beyond mere adherence to a set of principles. It means living up to a high standard you set for yourself, even when no one is looking. It goes beyond simply living an unobtrusive life. This is where we fail our children. Even though we set the rules for them, make sure they act accordingly, and set a good example, we do nothing to internalize these values into the core if their character. Sowing the seeds of integrity in our children must go deeper than defining expectations.

We need to help them define their value systems to give them a sense of their own identity and what is important. Of course, if you as the parent cannot clearly define your own standards of behavior, it will be difficult to teach it to your children. A parent that is late to work, doesn’t deliver projects on time, or even dinner for that matter, must develop his own sense of integrity before he can instill it in his children. If, as a parent, you haven’t done this important work in yourself, perhaps you can do it with them.
It is a learning experience you can do together.

Expose children to other cultures and socioeconomic levels (both above and below your own) in an atmosphere of acceptance. Talk to them about what they see in the world. Ask for their opinion. Anytime you speak to your children, come from a place of acceptance of everyone, not good or bad but different. Do not make judgments but let your children decide for himself. Put aside your own opinion and play the devil’s advocate with them. Help them see another side, even if you don’t agree with it. Of course, you will share your opinion with them, but speak thoughtfully; they will remember your words.

A church with a good youth program, Scouting programs, or Boys and Girls Clubs, will provide opportunities for children to work with people who are homeless or handicapped. They can read to younger children whose parents don’t have time. Older children take on service projects and rebuild homes for those who don’t have the resources to do it on their own.

Be a tourist at home and visit the sites. Teach them about the history of their city, state, and country. Point out the beauty in nature. Pull to the side of the road and take in the sunset. An appreciation for our surroundings teaches respect on a different level, respect for our environment and for the people involved in our community.

Don’t protect them from the evils of the world. Let them be lied to, stolen from, be blamed for something that isn’t their fault. Let them see that people will do these things and appear to get away with it. It is not up to us to punish but to decide that for us, there is a different choice. Don’t rush in to fix the problem for them. If there is an action to take, help them figure out what it is and let them take it.

Give them chores or duties in which the reward is the feeling of satisfaction in a job well done. If children only work when the parents make it a game, or because there is a promise of a treat or money at the end, they’ll quit when it isn’t fun anymore, or the reward isn’t big enough for the trouble. After the yard work is done, serve dinner outside so that everyone can enjoy the view. The reward is in the beauty. They will not only develop the integrity to finish a job they start, but they will build self-esteem as well.

Every action we take results in a reward or consequence. If we want to reap the rewards we have to accept the consequences as well. Don’t try to protect your children from their consequences by offering up excuses, blaming someone else, or fixing their problem for them. If little ones drop their ice cream cone, don’t run to replace it. If they forget their lunch or homework, don’t bring it to them. They will learn to deal with disappointment. The day will go on. Teach them how to continue having a good time in spite of the small setbacks we all have to deal with daily. It’s called life.

Building integrity in our children also gives them self-esteem. A person with high self-esteem is someone with a strong sense of who they are, what is important to them, and will want to live up to their own high ideal. Children who grow into adults with integrity make better employees and better parents to their own children.