Teaching Honesty by Earning Trust, Literally! A Family Value Need.

family values trust

Honesty is the Best Policy

I grew up hearing over and over the phrase that we all know very well.  A phrase that is synonymous with teaching honesty by earning trust, and I’ll be honest, it’s become a staple in my home.  Needing no introduction, it’s…honesty is the best policy

My story around teaching honesty centers around my son Adam.  This story is packed full of emotions, many of which were misguided on my part.  Looking back, I did the best I could at that time, a time of only being a parent for seven years.  Today, the story is told through a much different lens, in a more humorous way (which I can promise you, was not how I felt at that time).

The original story goes like this:

It was a warm spring afternoon.  I was busy upstairs.  My son was outside playing with a neighborhood friend.  I don’t recall where my wife and daughter were at the time.  I do know that they weren’t home when all this transpired. 

It was your quintessential New England spring day.  All the doors and windows were wide open.  The birds were chirping and the sun was shining through each window.  The kind of sunshine that illuminates all the suspended dust particles.  Whatever the reason was, I needed to go downstairs.  For this story, it was fortunate, or not, that the staircase leads to the front door which was wide open with a full glass storm door. 

My son was playing in the yard with his friend.  As I was heading down the staircase, I could see directly through the glass door to our front porch where my son was gearing up to do something not quite so good.  It was at this moment that shaped the future and dynamics of our home and family value.  I immediately saw a fork in a road.  I had two choices and I had to pick one quick.  Each decision had two distinct and different paths and outcomes. Time was of the essence. 


"Par" for the course

Unbeknownst to my son, I had a clear view of him.  He was standing on the front porch holding a wooden sign.  The sign had a stake at one end and a wooden whale on the other end.  It was a lawn sign left over from my daughter’s Under the Sea party.  In his other hand was a golf ball.  I think you can see where this is going.  Don’t get me wrong, I love golf and was happy to see him practicing.  It was what I saw next that put me into a do or die situation.  I saw my son set up the golf ball and turn the sign with the whale pointing downwards.   He positioned the ball perfectly and his stance was amazing.  The four years of playing golf appeared to have paid off.

At this moment, I had to decide what to do.  The simple choice was to verbally intervene.  The other option was to let this play out.  The first choice had an obvious outcome.  The latter would require parenting in uncharted territory.  I took the more vulnerable choice.    

His swing was perfect.  The whale hit the ball dead center.  At least he had the good sense to be facing away from the house.   If he were on a golf course (and using an actual golf club), the ball would have landed smack in the middle of the fairway.  You wonder how I could make such a speculation?  The whale broke completely off the stake.  To this day, I have no recollection where the whale eventually landed.  

Shorter version of teaching honesty

To make a long story shorter, this blog isn’t going to be about his mindset of using the whale lawn sign as a golf club.  It’s about what came next. 

Because I chose the more unknown option by not initially stopping him in his backswing, I had a second tough decision to make.  Do I just go out there and pick up the pieces and ask why he would do such a thing? No.  Do I pretend I didn’t see anything and ask what happened, specifically with the yard sign?  Yes! While this felt like a set up, it was the path I took, right or wrong, and this is where the story truly begins. 

I asked in a mild manner way, “Adam what happened to the sign?”


“The sign, it’s broken.”

“Oh, I found it this way in the garage.”

My insides immediately boiled.  In a raised voice, I sternly said, “Get upstairs to your room, now!”  Only being seven, he did so without any fanfare.  I followed behind as we went into his room.  Him on one side of the bed and I at the other, I started the lecture about not being truthful.  (I stayed away from the word LIE or LYING.  I like to use untruthful, not truthful, instead.  It reinforces the word truth or truthful and it also has less of an antagonistic tone.)

I went on and on about what, I don’t know.  What I do recall was not getting the emotional response from Adam about initially not telling me the truth. And with every following sentence, I was getting more worked up.  He just stood there staring at me, no apology or any confirmation of understanding me.

family values trust

Show me the money - earning trust

Blah, blah, blahs later, I heard myself say the word earn.  “You’ll need to earn my trust back”.  It was at that moment, I had an idea.  An idea that had good intentions but ended completely the opposite.  “Adam,” I said.  “Give me three dollars from your piggy bank. And when you get the three dollars back, that is when you’ll know you have my trust back.” 

Adam, still stoic, emptied his piggy back, still showing no signs of remorse.  He sorted the coins from the bills and handed me 12 quarters.  And to this day, I will always recall what came next as if it had just happened. 

“Oh no, I want bills!”  I said.  And then it happened, an emotion exuded from Adam.  He broke down crying! Not because he was remorseful for not telling me the truth, but because he had to give me his paper money. 

I completely missed the boat. 

The matter morphed from being about honesty to being about me and my own insecurities about being a good father.  For Adam, it was no longer about telling the truth, it became a matter of his piggy bank account.  While I initially started out teaching about the value of honesty, unlike my other posts, it quickly became diluted with what I needed, an emotion, and less about his initial action – using a whale lawn sign as a golf club.  Perhaps next time I’ll call as I see it (using a lawn sign) rather than a setup which lead only to dishonesty.

In this case, I was able to immediately name the  family value.  I was able to describe it to my son and connect why honesty is important. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I would have had plenty more “opportunities” to reinforce trust over time, calmly.  But instead, I tried to drive home the point in one session. 

He did eventually get his $3.00 back, without interest, and if you are wondering what happened with his friend that day, me too. 

Check out All Pro Dad for 10 ways to teach your child to be honest.

While TRUST was my family value in this article, add a comment what might have been your family value? Describe it with your family and place it on your Family Values Roadmap worksheet, downloadable as a free PDF on my site when you sign-up.

Share my story with a friend and ask them what would be their family value connection!


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