Q. I have younger children and would like to pick up on the question of honesty. How do you teach such an abstract idea to a young child?

A. I assume you were following the discussion on lying (see My Child is Lying). There were quite a few comments from readers who pointed out that children cannot believe that honesty has any value if those around them are lying, specifically their parents. Even "little white lies" destroy all credibility. To a child a lie is a lie, you cannot teach him by saying, "do as I say not as I do." It won't work, nor should it. If you, the parent don't place any real value on this, then why should the child?

So the first thing you have to ask yourself in teaching honesty to children is how honest am I. No more little lies in order to get out of a tight spot. (Obviously, you don't have to be insulting or hurtful to another person in order to be honest, but there must be other ways to work around these problematic situations.) How honest are you—do you call in sick at work, when you are healthy and well? Do you write an excuse for your child's uncompleted homework that is fabricated? If a cashier were to give you too much change, would you tell her and return it?

So the first step is your example.

The next step is how important it is to you that a person is honest. When you read the paper and someone has been untruthful, what do you say? What if it was a politician that you believed in and it was well known in your family that you admired him, would you now be excusing his conduct? Honesty is linked to trust, so how can you trust a person who has proven himself to be dishonest. The Torah cautions us: "Distance yourself from falsehood." Will it be apparent to your children that this person whom you once admired has now lost respect in your eyes? Will they understand that you believe it is a horrible thing to be untrustworthy? These are concepts that help explain the importance of honesty to a child.

The most important factor is your reaction:

At some point one sibling in your family will accuse another of lying. Your reaction to such an accusation is extremely significant.

Lying is a premeditated action that is based on deceit. Unless you were aware that the situation is otherwise, most children are not lying. They may be mistaken; they may have forgotten or confused their facts; or they may be reacting impulsively, but they are not lying.

Your reaction is being closely watched. Suppose you would come down on the accuser insisting that it was a horrible thing to say about his brother, by reprimanding him, "Your brother may be mistaken, but he would never lie!" Emote here and mean it, children know when you are faking. Your words and reaction will send a strong statement to your family.

You would still be able to handle the situation and deal with it in terms of a "mistake." But meanwhile, you have also conveyed a very important message to all your children about how essential truthfulness is to you and how deplorable you view dishonesty.

If a child does take up lying you will have to deal with it openly, but until you have no other option, you emotional reaction to such an accusation speaks volumes. Sincerity comes across; what is felt in the heart leaves impressions on the soul.

Wishing you and your young family all the best!