In Parenting Help, Parents' Coaching

How to Raise Children and Young People with Integrity


What Does Integrity Mean?

There are several good definitions of integrity. A particularly good definition of integrity is that it is the moral foundation that is the touchstone for your actions. Yet another good definition of this word notes that integrity means doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

Integrity is one of the most important things a child or young person can learn. A parent who has raised a child or children to have integrity has succeeded as a parent, regardless of what the child does in life or how much money he or she makes. Integrity is vital to having good relationships, leading a fulfilling life and being happy, stable and productive.

Teaching a child integrity is far from easy, especially in today’s world. Movies, books, TV shows and computer games often model attitudes and actions that are diametrically opposed to integrity and other imperative moral values. However, it is not impossible to raise children with integrity in this day and age. Following are some tips that can help parents in this important task.

Model the Virtue

One of the best ways to teach children to live with integrity is for parents to do so themselves. Children are always watching, even when it seems that they are not really tuning in to what is going on. If parents lead lives of integrity, children are likely to follow in the same path. On the other hand, parents who cheat, lie, gossip and engage in other unethical forms of behavior are teaching children that integrity is of little or no worth.

If you as a parent are unsure if you are setting a good example for your kids, take the time to think about what integrity means to you. As it is a moral foundation for your actions, you may need to take some time to define what morals are important to you. These may include honesty, a good work ethic, self-discipline, respect, tolerance, generosity and/or other virtues. Once you have defined the morals you wish to be governed by, then you will need to make an effort to put them into practice.

You will not be perfect and it is likely that your child has seen or will see you make mistakes and act in an unethical or inappropriate manner. When this happens, do not try to cover it up or make excuses for yourself. Instead, apologize and make things right, Explain to your kids that what you did was wrong and that it should not be repeated. Your kids will remember your behavior when they themselves make mistakes and will be encouraged to know that integrity does not equal perfection. They will also benefit from having seen an example of how to make things right after doing something that is wrong.

Explain and Teach

Modeling good moral values for your children is a good starting point, but it is not the all in all. You need to talk to children about integrity, what it is and why it is so important. Following are some ways in which you can teach this particular virtue.

Tips for Teaching Integrity to Young Children

  • Talk to your children about moral values and ask them which ones they want to be known for. Pick several of these values and work on them as a family. Your children may also enjoy having a chart that you add a star or sticker to every time a particular virtue is put into practice.
  • As was touched on above, the movies your children watch, the games they play and the books they read can greatly influence their behavior. Given this fact, you may want to carefully monitor what your children are viewing and reading and set rules down regarding their input. If you are not familiar with particular movies or cartoons, watch them first (or read the plot summary online) to find out if they make for worthwhile viewing. You as a parent will also want to go out of your way to buy movies, books and games that actively promote moral values.
  • Talk with your children about mistakes they have made, go over ways in which they could have done things better and encourage them to apologize and make up for their wrongdoing. If, for instance, your young child hits another child, call your child over and ask why he or she did it. Talk about better ways of handling frustration and anger and have your child apologize for his or her actions. If your older child is refusing to do chores or clean up after him or herself, talk about it together. Explain the importance of keeping the house clean, why everyone should participate in making sure the house is neat and tidy at all times and make a realistic chore chart.

Tips on Teaching Integrity to Older Children and Teens

  • One important point that you will want to discuss with your older children is the fact that integrity does not bring about immediate (or even any) material rewards. Sadly, it is entirely possible that a young person with integrity will be shunned by friends who want this young person to engage in immoral behavior with them. Employees with integrity have been fired from their jobs for exposing illegal or immoral behavior that the company is engaging in. However, help young people understand that having integrity is, in itself, its own reward. A person who knows what his or her moral foundation is and acts in accordance with it will be happy, fulfilled and at peace regardless of the circumstances. What is more, those who act with integrity will have better relationships with others (friends, relatives, acquaintances, etc.) than those who have not learned this important virtue.
  • It can also be a good idea to hang up integrity quotes around the house. Short, pithy quotes will stick with children for life and serve as a touchstone for making good decisions. Some great integrity quotes that you may want to select include:
    • Integrity is the essence of everything successful – Buckminster Fuller
    • Honesty and integrity are absolutely essential for success in life – all areas of life – Zig Ziglar
    • Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching – C.S. Lewis
  • Another good way to teach integrity is to come up with “What If” scenarios and talk about them as a family. Choose scenarios that are realistic and have to do with issues that your child is likely facing or will face at some point in the future. Encourage your child to say what he or she thinks; the idea is not for them to give what they think is “the right answer” but to explain what they would actually do and why they would do it. As you discuss the answers; however, you can point out the potential consequences of unethical answers or courses of action. If your kids find a particular scenario hard to talk about, choose another one and do not do more than a couple at any given time as you do not want to bore your children, just get them thinking.

In Summary

What is integrity? As was noted above, there is more than one integrity definition. Parents may want to give further thought to determining what integrity means to them personally and how they want to impart this virtue to their kids.

After you define integrity for yourself personally, explain to your kids how and why it is important. Use the points outlined above to help children understand what integrity is, how to put it into practice in day to day life and the rewards and benefits of doing so.

Even more importantly, model integrity for them on a daily basis. Treat people with love, tolerance and compassion. Do the right thing even when you think you can get away with doing something wrong. If you slip up and make a mistake, apologize and make things right as soon as you can. Children will learn more from your personal example than they will from your words; however, your teaching combined with your actions is a powerful force that will increase the chances of your children wanting to live a life of integrity.

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