I’ve had many memorable parenting moments at Target, but this one trumps them all. My neck is getting red and splotchy just thinking of this day. This is the story our kids know and remember well—because it’s the day the virtue of Honesty came to life.

My girls were six and four. My oldest was in Kindergarten and she had two passions that day. First, she desperately wanted a new pack of Play-Doh. And, she had also been begging for new colorful tennis shoes for school for weeks. However, the rules at the school stated that colorful tennis shoes are not allowed. Only black, green, navy or white were approved at this time.

We had gathered everything from toilet paper to the Play-Doh, and were making one final sweep of the store. As we passed the shoe section, Ella gazed at the colorful shoes and said, “Mom, you know that Mrs. Dodgion said we are allowed to have colorful shoes now. I can get any of these.”

I knew in one flat second from her face that she was lying. And I was boiling.

I stopped the gigantic double-seater red cart. I got her attention with this statement: “Ella, we can totally come back another day and get those. I am just going to email Mrs. Dodgion tonight and be sure that is the new policy at the school.”

And by the size of her eyeballs and squirming in her pants, the big lie was confirmed.

There are a lot of things our kids will do wrong, but lying is at the top of the list of offenses in our home. I wanted my reaction to send a message to her. So, I got down on her level and said, “Ella, I know you have just lied about the shoes, and I’m so sad about this. Being honest is very important in our family. We always have to tell the truth to teach other. I am going to leave the Play-Doh right here as a reminder of this day. This is your consequence for choosing to be dishonest (I KNEW how badly she wanted the Play-Doh and it was going to leave a mark).”

As I suspected, this was going to upset the child. But I had no idea.

She was fuming and said through gritted teeth, “I am about to embarrass ME and YOU!” And then began to scream and cry like something I had hardly experienced with this kid. It took everything I had not to run to the car. I slowly walked to the checkout as she lost her mind. I got her sister some Play-Doh (which caused louder screaming from Ella) and whatever random stuff I tossed in for me.

Everyone in the store was staring at us and the checkout lady was glaring at me like I had just abused Ella in some way.

However, I knew that we needed a message about the importance of Honesty. It wasn’t just a virtue that’s nice or icing on the cake. Telling the truth is critical for trust in our relationship. It’s a virtue our kids will need from elementary years to college to the career world. Honest kids become trusted adults and loyal friends. They become men and women of solid character.

We don’t always go with this Play-Doh tactic, there are plenty of ways that you can instill a culture of Honesty in your home. Here are some other ways we do that in our home:

  • Praise it. When we see them fess up to a mistake or a spill, we praise it like crazy.
  • Open communication. We ask a lot of questions and hope to make it a safe place for them to share honest answers.
  • Don’t freak out. I learned this from Sandra Stanley, but we try hard not to overreact when they share stories so they won’t feel the need to lie.
  • Embrace mistakes. We place a higher value on honesty than perfection. We encourage messing up and model it frequently.
  • Give Them a Minute. It’s hard to tell the truth on the spot. Give them time in their room to think on it and write a note or come back down.

You will never regret placing a high priority on Honesty. Spend time focusing on it with your family. It will set the foundation and create a safe place for truthful and open communication for years to come.