Teaching trustworthiness to preschoolers will help build character

Young children can learn good character traits through everyday experiences with the adults who care for them.

All parents want their children to grow into adults who have good character. The six pillars of character education include trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. Teaching these traits to preschoolers can be accomplished through daily interactions with adults who model and enforce good behavior. Preschool children are emerging learners, and they need practice each day in the concepts of character education.

The first pillar of character education is “trustworthiness.” By age 4, most children can tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Every day, early learning experiences at home and in childcare can provide ground rules for life. Trustworthiness in preschoolers can be as simple as teaching children the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie. Children lie for many of the same reasons that adults do. They may be trying to get out of being punished, they might feel threatened or they are seeking attention. Below are some simple guidelines that parents and caregivers can employ when they are trying to teach the character trait of trustworthiness to young children.

  • Teach honesty to your child. Let your child know what behavior is acceptable in your home. Set boundaries around what is expected and establish consequences. Be consistent!
  • Model the behavior you’d like to see. Parents need to be honest themselves. When you lie to someone on the phone by saying that your husband isn’t home, children learn that it’s OK to lie. When adults borrow things and don’t return them, they are teaching children dishonesty. When you find something, look for the owner. Make honesty a family policy, and let your children know how important it is to tell the truth.
  • Don’t put children in a position to be dishonest. Asking a child if all their toys are all picked up begs the answer ‘yes.’ Instead, you can go to the child’s room and state all the things they’ve done to pick up their toys, i.e, “You’ve put some of your books on the shelf, and you’ve picked up most of your other toys,” then you can discuss what still needs to be done. If you know your child has broken a rule, don’t ask if he/she has. Instead, you can tell them that you know that she/he has broken a family rule, and then discuss the consequence for it, adding again why the rule is important.
  • Share lots of examples. Point out to your child when people are being honest or dishonest. There are lots of opportunities on television shows, in the movies and in real life every day that provide a basis for a discussion on why “honesty is the best policy.” Explore the topic of trustworthiness in children’s books and in the news each day. Three popular children’s books that you can read to your children to reinforce the importance of telling the truth are Edward Fudwupper Fibbed Big by Berkeley Breathed, The Berenstain Bears And The Truth by Sam Berenstain and Pinky Promise by Vanita Braver. Your local library is a great resource for other books that can help build this character trait.

Trustworthiness is just one of several important tools that you can use as you work to build your child’s good character. Preschoolers are adults under construction. A little extra time spent building trustworthiness traits in your child will be well worth the effort.

For more articles on child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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