At Tamarack Day Camp, Integrity is part of our Code of Living. It’s something we believe that a child can learn and call upon when faced with ethical decisions.  Integrity is about more than just being honest. It’s about doing what is right for the right reasons. Not for attention, accolades, or rewards – but simply because it is the right thing to do. It is important to teach our children that telling the truth is good, but living the truth is better.

Too often we try to teach integrity after the fact, after we ‘catch’ a child doing something wrong. But what we have to realize is that we can best teach integrity by being proactive and have purposeful conversations as well as lead by example. The first step in helping children understand integrity is teaching empathy.

Here are some powerful ways to talk to children about integrity:

Invent scenarios that encourage children to think about their choices:

-This isn’t a test; it’s more of an exploration into integrity, into learning what the right thing is and how to actually do it, especially when there is peer pressure involved. And certainly not every choice they make will be popular with everyone. Let your kids know that it’s not about what other people think:

-“What would you do if…”

  • …you saw your best friend stealing a scarf from the teacher’s desk?
  • …you noticed that your grandmother dropped a $20 bill the same day you wanted to buy a popular new video game?
  • …you saw the last piece of chocolate cake in the fridge but knew your sister was hoping to have it for dessert?
  • …you jokingly said something at recess and later heard it repeated as a rumor?
  • …you witnessed a classmate being bullied in the hallway at school?

Explaining gray areas:

– There are times when it is completely obvious what the right thing to do is. But sometimes – often, in fact – there will be gray areas. Something that’s not completely right nor completely wrong. Something that will make you decide what is the right thing to do. This is when your integrity is most in play.

Help children empathize:

– Tell the children that sometimes we are faced with ethical decisions that fall into that gray area, and we are not sure how to proceed. In that case, suggest they ask themselves a few more questions like “How does my decision affect others? Am I considering other people’s feelings? Can I imagine myself in someone else’s shoes?”

This is where children can rely on empathy. If they can identify with the person who would be most hurt in a situation, like the teacher whose scarf was stolen, they can find the most ethical choice.

Often kids don’t realize how the things they do – and don’t do – affect other people. Using empathy as a guidepost to navigate these difficult dilemmas makes all the difference.