What is Honesty?

A definition of honesty in simple words for children

Honesty is when you speak the truth and act truthfully.

What is honesty? Many children think honesty means you "don't tell a lie"-- and speaking the truth is a big part of being honest. But honesty means more than "not lying." Honesty means your actions are truthful too. If you have to hide what you are doing because you are trying to trick someone, you probably aren't being honest. In simple words, honesty is about both speaking and acting truthfully. Let's look closer at what each type of honesty is.

(For a definition of honesty in more complete terms for adults, see What is Truth and Honesty, written by the same author.)

Honesty is being truthful in what you say and do.

Being Truthful means saying how something really is or how it really happened.

  • telling the truth based on what actually happened, based on facts and real things (not lying)
  • telling the whole truth, and not leaving out parts in order to hide something you know is wrong (lies of omission)
  • acting in a way that is truthful and doesn’t hide the truth or trick others (not deceiving)

For more about honesty, scroll down:

  • Speaking truthful words
  • Acting Truthfully
  • Examples of honesty
Rooted in Decency Book on Core Values and Common Decency

What is honesty? Speaking truthful words

Honesty is speaking the truth. Saying things that aren't true, or that you think might not be true, or that you are making up to hide the truth are all types of lies. Lying is not honest (also called being dishonest) because you are saying something that isn't true. Examples of what speaking the honest truth means:

  • Honesty means you don't say things about people that aren't true. You are not being honest if you make up rumors about someone or if you share rumors someone else made up.
  • Being honest means you admit to your actions, even if you'll get in trouble. You are not being honest if you deny you did something wrong when you really did it.
  • Honesty means you explain how a situation really happened. You are not being honest if you say something happened one way when it really happened another way.

What is honesty? Acting truthfully

When you do something you know is morally wrong, or when you have to hide your actions because you know they are wrong, you are not being honest. Being honest means you act in a way that you know is the right thing to do. (More about good character, morals and how to know "right" from "wrong".)

This part of the definition of honesty includes not hiding the truth (deceiving), not breaking rules to gain an advantage (cheating), and not taking something that isn't yours (stealing) and any other action that you would hide because it is against what you consider morally right.

What is being honest with yourself?

Part of honesty is what you say and how you act toward others. But another part of the definition of honesty is whether you treat yourself the same way. Being honest with yourself means you really know why you are acting in a certain way or whether what you tell yourself is true. This part of the definition of honesty includes when you are trying to convince yourself you didn't really do something wrong, or it wasn't that bad, even though you know it was.

Children's books about what honesty is

Examples of what honesty is

Create your own definition for what honesty is from these examples or download a What is Honesty worksheet here.)

What would be honest in this situation?

You broke a table. Your mom asks who broke the table and you tell her you did it.
Honesty answer: Honesty means telling the truth, so admitting to breaking the table is the honest action.

What would be honest in this situation?

You heard a rumor and you think it's not true, so you don't spread it.
Honesty answer: Spreading rumors isn't a nice thing to do whether they are true or not. But if you spread rumors that you even just think might be false, then you are being dishonest because you aren't speaking the truth.

What would be honest in this situation?

Your dad says not to play your game player. You hide in the closet to play it, but you don't tell your dad about it so you didn't lie.
Honesty answer: Even if you don't get caught, so you don't speak a lie about what you did, sneaking and hiding your actions usually means you are not making an honest choice.

What would be honest in this situation?

Honesty answer: Even if you don't say a lie outright, hiding the truth (deceiving) is dishonest. Being honest means telling the whole truth.

Colleen Doyle Bryant

Colleen Doyle Bryant is the author of five books and more than 50 learning resources about making good choices for the right reasons. Her Talking with Trees series for elementary students and Truth Be Told Quotes series for teens are used in curricula around the world. Rooted in Decency, Colleen’s most recent release, written for an adult audience, explores how the decline in common decency is affecting wellbeing, and how we can build more trust and cooperation. Learn more at ColleenDoyleBryant.com