Teaching Kids the Importance of Trustworthiness

By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

Teaching Kids the Importance of TrustworthinessThis past May, I shared a list of books that enrich different core character education values. My next few posts will suggest activities to intentionally teach those virtues and traits. Let’s begin with trustworthiness.

When teaching the value of trustworthiness, consider starting with Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Most children have heard of this story, so start by asking one of them to retell it.

Here’s a brief synopsis: For his own entertainment, a young shepherd boy screams that a wolf is attacking his flock of sheep. The people in the village are very alarmed and come running to his aid. But they find that there is no wolf, and the sheep are not in danger. After the shepherd boy pulls this stunt several times, the villagers realize that he is lying. One day, a wolf actually does attack the sheep. But this time when the boy cries out for help, the villagers recall that he is not trustworthy, and they ignore him.

Following a reading or telling of the story, discuss the importance of telling the truth in building trust. Use questions like these: What happens if someone lies once? How many times does someone have to lie before they are not trustworthy? Why didn’t the people believe the boy when there really was a wolf? Has this sort of thing ever happened to you or someone you know? How can you make sure people believe you? Will it be easy for the boy to change his reputation? Will it be possible? How?

Use Discussion Dilemmas
Discussion Dilemmas can be very effective for helping children wrestle with character choices. When talking about trustworthiness, try these questions:

  1. Is cheating the same thing as lying? If not, which is worse?
  2. How common do you think cheating is? Why do people cheat?
  3. If a cashier gives you too much change and you knowingly keep it, is that stealing?
  4. How does cheating, lying, or stealing affect trust? How do they affect friendships?
  5. What should be the consequences of cheating? Of stealing? Of lying?
  6. What might happen if a news reporter exaggerates or makes up details of a story? Is that lying?
  7. Is there ever a time when it’s okay to cheat or steal? If so, give an example.
  8. What might you do if you catch a friend cheating or stealing?
  9. Is it ever okay to tell a “little white lie” (for example, to spare someone’s feelings)? Why or why not?
  10. Why is it important to keep your promises?
  11. What happens when a friend doesn’t keep his or her promise to you?
  12. How important is it that someone keeps your secrets?
  13. What type of secret wouldn’t or couldn’t you keep?

These reflection questions also make interesting journaling prompts or class circle conversation starters. When you’ve finished discussing these questions, make up some of your own and encourage your students to do the same.

Build a Solid Wall of Trust
Whether or not they realize it, our students are building their reputations—or what I call their Wall of Trust—with every choice they make. Here’s an activity using cardboard bricks (or tissue boxes!) that can visually show students how important that construction work is.

Give students a brick and ask them a question like, “What do people like about you?” or “What makes you a good friend?” or “In what ways are you trustworthy?” Have students add their brick to the wall as they give their answer aloud. Their answers will vary from “I’m kind” to “I keep my promises,” “You can count on me,” or “I tell the truth.” With each answer, lay the bricks, overlapping them at the seams so they’re not stacked directly on top of one another, to make a pyramid-style wall.

After the wall has been constructed, talk with students about how it represents their solid friendships. Wouldn’t you want to be friends with someone whose Wall of Trust is this tall and this strong? Next give students a dilemma like the following: “What happens to your Wall of Trust if you promise to hang out with your friend but you forget and don’t show up?” Let them answer before you strategically and slowly knock a block out of the middle of the wall. Tell students, “When you mess up, you gotta fix it up,” and ask them what you’d have to do to fix that hole in their Wall of Trust.

Ask students to consider another imaginary situation: “Suppose you need a partner for a class project. The same friend who forgot to show up to play last time wants to be your partner. Do you trust this person to show up to work on the project? If so, what happens if she or he forgets again?”

This time, knock down the top half of the wall to show what happens to our Wall of Trust when we’ve let someone down too many times. Ask how difficult it is to trust someone whose wall is broken down in this way and what that person would have to do to strengthen it again. Make sure that participants know that trustworthiness is always about owning and fixing mistakes so that people can count on and trust them.

Make Friendship Kits
Trustworthiness is a crucial ingredient for a healthy friendship. An activity I’ve used to make friendship a bit more tangible is putting together a Friendship Kit.

Gather the items listed below and put them in a clear zip-top bag. Before showing students the Friendship Kit, ask them what they might put into a Friendship Kit and why. After they share a few ideas, show them the kit—but don’t tell them what you think each item represents. Rather, pull out the items one by one and ask how that item might represent friendship. For example, “Why do you think there’s a button in the kit?” Make it clear that there are no right or wrong answers so students feel free to brainstorm whatever comes to mind. Prepare for some amazing reflections. One boy once told me that “just like a button completes a shirt and holds it together, a friend completes you.” Boom! What do all of these items have to do with trust in a friendship?

  • button
  • toothpick
  • cotton ball
  • rubber band
  • sour candy
  • sticker
  • bandage
  • dog tag
  • flashlight

If you have a budget, you can purchase these items in bulk and let the students make Friendship Kits for themselves. When I did this, it cost about ten cents per kit.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

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Suggested Resources
Knowing and Doing What’s Right
Kids’ Daily Dilemmas In a Jar®
The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends

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