Children and Honesty: Do You Set Them Up To Lie?
Two young children are playing. Both start yelling and crying. Both are obviously involved in a disagreement. An adult walks in and says to both emotional children, “What happened?”
A child comes home from school upset. There has been a history of arguments with a classmate. An adult says, “Did he pick on you again?”
A teen is quiet and sullen. Something is definitely amiss. An adult says, “Are you okay? Are you feeling sick? Is it your stomach again?”
Why don’t we let children tell their own stories? We assume. We speak for them. We suggest a way out of telling us what really happened. We set our children up all the time. I want children to tell me what they are thinking or feeling. I don’t want them to tell me what they think I want to hear. When they think they may in trouble or when they simply don’t feel like sharing yet, they will say whatever it takes to satisfy us and get us to leave them alone. Imagine this – you are pulled over by the police. What is your first thought? Is it “how do I get out of this?” Of course it is. So is theirs.
Children cannot be honest when we set them up. Adults can’t be so honest under pressure either.
A reporter recently asked me to describe the greatest lesson that I’ve learned from being an educator and a parent. I told her that I’ve learned the value of listening. Stop talking and listen. Stop probing and wait. Just be present.
Does the story even matter more than the current emotion? It doesn’t matter why a child is upset as much as being presented with the opportunity to teach children to cope with upset. We cannot protect them from every hurt, failure or social misstep – nor should we. Children need to learn to navigate both the good and the bad because their entire lives will be full of both. Too many times, parents worry more about blame than about the lasting lessons their children can learn. Children need to know that being sad or upset is a normal human condition and it is acceptable. They need to know that we are there to listen but not to get caught up in the drama. We will listen, provide a safe place to talk and then we will guide. We need them to learn that not every situation will go their way and not everyone will love them as much as we do. Children don’t need us to commiserate. They need us to help them to take the next step.
Be quiet. Be in their space and wait. Tell them “I am here if you want to tell me what’s wrong” but don’t suggest what could be wrong. Accept it if they don’t feel like sharing. Sometimes just being with you is enough. Sometimes they can figure it out. When young children come home from school upset, don’t participate in the focus on the perpetrator. Focus on the victim. Teach your children better strategies for interaction and show them that they can manage themselves. By staying steady and calm, we model the very calm that we wish for them.
Two young children are playing. Both start yelling and crying. Both are obviously involved in a disagreement. An adult walks in and says, “I see you are upset. Take a deep breath. Let’s figure this out. What can we do?”
A child comes home from school upset. There has been a history of arguments with a classmate. An adult says, “You look upset. I’m here if you want to talk.”
A teen is quiet and sullen. Something is definitely amiss. An adult says, “I love you. Tell me if I can help you.”
For more information about interacting with children, click on these titles: "The Accidental Teacher: What Do YOU Teach Your Children Accidentally?", "Is the Tooth Fairy Real, Daddy?" and "Teaching Children to Cope with Change".
Read my articles in “The Shriver Report”: and "Stress in the Family: Helping Our Children to Cope" and "From Working Mom to Working Woman: The Opportunity of the Empty Nest"
Read this blog for more articles. Ask your parenting & education questions and learn about early childhood workshops for parents & educators on my website - Helping Kids Achieve
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