I think we are teaching, encouraging, requiring, even forcing our kids to be liars. I think almost every parent is doing this, and I want to start a conversation about it. I’m definitely not criticizing or pulling the holier-than-thou act. We are all in the same boat here. But I think maybe we need to look around and make sure this is the boat we mean to be in. Most of us are deliberate parents. Scott and I are deliberate to the point of exhaustion at times. We want to make sure that we teach our kids good values, build their character, refine their innate tendencies, set good and consistent examples, send clear messages, set clear and manageable expectations and on and on. You get the picture. I’m sure you are nodding your head. Your goals are the same. We get one shot. There are no re-dos. This raising kids business is of paramount importance, yet we are kind of making it up as we go along. We need to help each other!
We all have different items on our list of family values. But I’m certain honesty is on every list. From the very beginning, Scott and I have made it abundantly clear that we value honesty in our family. We have emphasized to our girls that we MUST be able to trust each other. The four of us are our home base, and if we can’t rely on one another for honesty, then the world is not a very secure place. We have come down with swift and relatively severe consequences for lying. We decided early on that with regards to lying, the punishment should outweigh the crime. We wanted to make sure that being caught in a lie would NOT be worth it in our house. With me?
Then why do we force our kids to say “I’m sorry,” or “Thank you, I love it?” And why do some of us use the “If you don’t come right now, I’m leaving without you” tactic?
- “I’m sorry.” When your child does something that they should not have done that either disappoints, hurts, or angers someone else or breaks a rule, our knee jerk reaction is to instruct them to say “I’m sorry.” But many times, they just are not sorry. They aren’t. They are angry or embarrassed, or beside themselves in some other way, but right in that moment, they aren’t sorry. They might be sorry that they were caught in the act or that they are in trouble. But forcing a child to make a proclamation that, while socially prescribed, is inaccurate, is, in fact, forcing them to lie. When I realized this, our kids were in preschool. I began instructing them to say something that I felt was both socially acceptable and more accurate in the moment. “I shouldn’t have done that. I broke a rule.” or “I shouldn’t have done that. I hurt you.” or “I shouldn’t have done that and I will try not to do it again.” With this, they are verbally acknowledging wrong-doing and expounding on the specific situation while avoiding the disingenuous platitude that falls flat every time. I have no idea what long term impact this routine had/has on our kids. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a bar graph with lies/kid/year given the two different strategies? But, alas, child rearing is not so simple. It might be a small thing, and you could argue that it is just semantics, but I think not.
- “Thank you! I love it!” Behavior surrounding gift-receiving occasions is another one that I’ve given a lot of thought. I always felt so squirmy leading up to a gift opening session when it involved our girls. Kids are so brutally honest that our instinct is to ensure that that honesty doesn’t cause hurt feelings or social awkwardness, and I am the poster child for diplomacy! I hate awkwardness! I’m getting itchy around the collar just thinking about it. But simply instructing our kids to give a blanket stamp of approval on every gift is, again, not genuine and not honest. Instead of instructing them to say “Thank you! I love it,” the focus should be that each gift giver took the time to choose something they thought would be loved. When this occurred to me, I began asking them to keep that in mind when offering their thanks and to refrain from letting out any negative comments but to search their minds quickly for something positive and honest to say about each gift, like “Thank you! I love yellow!” or “Thank you! I collect turtles!” or “Thank you! I’m looking forward to learning how to play this!” It requires on the spot effort, but trust me, your kids can do it. They need to learn that dishonesty is a misguided short cut when attempting to avoid hurt feelings or awkwardness. There is always something positive and honest that can be said. After a couple of years of the intense pre-party gift response prep, our kids internalized this. It is harder for the introverts, and drumming up the appropriate level of external enthusiasm is a constant challenge for kids that don’t like the spotlight. My kids are definitely not perfect, but they do try, and their hearts are in the right place.
- “If you don’t come right now, I’m leaving without you.” This isn’t something we are asking our kids to say, but this is something I so often hear parents say to their kids. And I suspect that modeling dishonesty encourages a habit of lying in our kids at least as much as requiring it does. Scott and I noticed this before we had kids and decided we’d resist the urge to use this tactic. It never seemed like it worked anyway. And, in our minds, threatening something you are obviously not planning to follow through on only weakens your overall power as a parent. But that is a whole separate topic, am I right?
The Bottom Line
I’m not saying 100% honesty should always be our goal. We do want our kids to blend. Balancing kindness with honesty and social grace is hard. I struggle with where to draw the line on this sometimes. When I am in a terrible, awful, very bad, no good mood and the phone rings and my voice is suddenly bright and jovial, am I subtly teaching my kids to lie? Scott is, by nature, a much more honest person than I am, and this may be the thing I admire most about him. But I have to admit, every now and then, his honesty can kill a mood. This is something we are trying to balance with our girls. Their mood doesn’t always have to dictate the mood of the group or the room, but also, the truth of how they are feeling is not to be discounted. It’s complicated! Consistency is vital, but so so hard to accomplish! Can you think of anything else we all do that undermines our value of honesty? Please! Help me stop doing that! I’d love your input.
If you liked this article, you may also enjoy this one on saying “no” to your kids without losing your mind or this one on making life with a tween or teen easier.