“Don’t go there! There are lizards [or monsters]!”
“Mummy and Daddy are going to work so stay with Gramps”
(when in fact mum & dad were sneaking out for a date night)
Fear had been instilled in children for generations, just to get them to listen. If you read the lines you just told your children, you will realise that you had just lied. Ok Ok! If you like, you can call them Excuses. By the way, you are now deceiving yourselves.
Do we have to go to that extent to have our children hear what we say? Truth be told, that’s the only way many new parents know how to bring up their children because that’s how they were brought up. Me included. But I realised this issue before I had Ewan and made extra care to be mindful of what I say to him. Of course, reminding Meyer we should always provide Ewan with the truth in all negotiations. Hard as stone or not.
What repercussions do you think will come out of our “excuses”, you think?
Our children will start lying and think nothing about it. Mummy, daddy, grandma, grandpa and even uncles lie. So why can’t I?
They will, like us, explore in manipulating a situation or set something up just to see if it works. If they pull it through the first time, there comes the nth time. We think they will forget that we had deceived them about the grinch or yucky lizard. Did you ever forget about that policeman that will send you to prison if you didn’t finish your dinner? Well, I absolutely didn’t forget!
If we want to foster strong relationships with our children, start telling them the truth. Even if they were only 18 months old, everything they learn will be etched deeply in their head. Some people grow up lying more readily than others and I believe it is all about the way they were being nurtured. It definitely isn’t in our nature because we are born a blank sheet of paper. Alright, I won’t go into genetics (that’s nature) but a father as a crook won’t make you born a crook. However, you can be nurtured (nurture) into a crook. Ditto?
So, let’s try again.
“Eat your food darling otherwise you will be hungry later because mummy isn’t giving you anything until your next meal.”
“Don’t go there! It’s too dark and you might fall and hurt yourself.”
“Mummy and Daddy are going for dinner. We will be back for you in 2 hours so stay with Gramps and have fun! We love you so much.”
You won’t get desirable results from saying these (over lying to them about scary policemen/garbage truck men/boogymen/whatever-kind-of-scary-men-there-are-on-earth). In fact, it could be more exhausting. But! We must remember that we are the adults and we should be in control of ALL situations even if they protested. Children are always exploring and experimenting with our responses and reactions. If we fall into their trap by lying, there’s no turning back.
Should you find your child lying to you one day. Please do not punish? Instead, be positive and emphasise the importance of honesty in your family. You can tell your child that you appreciate being told the truth and don’t like it when they lie. You can even share the story of The Boy who Cried Wolf to give a good example of how lying can work against you. Be careful where you thread though. If you had been lying to your child, our new-generation-smarty-pants kids might rebut (with a straight face), “But you cry wolf all the time mummy.”
Many parents I spoke to share the same concerns with me and they are excited to start a no-excuses system. Sadly, they cannot control what grandparents say/do all the time. It is then, our job to start enlightening our parents on a better way of bringing up children. One without fear; one in true honesty; one that will garner respect; and one that engage competency in communication between caregiver and child.
When I hear other adults making excuses for Ewan to stop him from crying, I do not hesitate to correct their sentences. He could be crying because he didn’t want to go home from gramps. To stop him from crying, the more concerned folks will tell him that we are going shopping. Shopping is fun isn’t it? That’s when Meyer or I step in and emphasise to Ewan that we are indeed going home and are not going shopping. It only takes a minute of crying but a lifetime of rewards. So, don’t be afraid to let your child cry. They are throwing tantrums and we shouldn’t be controlled by such behaviours.
I absolutely do not agree that it is only a matter of survival when parents lie. I’ve extracted 5 lies parents tell their kids and absolutely disagree:
1. Lies to protect our own sanity
Nobody ever said parenting was a walk in a park. It can be overly stressful if we are unclear about our expectations and inconsistent with our rules and boundaries. Needless to say, communication is key. It takes hard work to reap results.
2. Lies to keep the magic of childhood alive
Pretend-play and imagination are different from lying.
3. Lies to manage behaviour
This is the worst kind of behaviour management – scaring them to act like civilised human beings will only make matters worse. Gosh I just read what this mum said to her child, “I’m on the phone with the dentist now. He said if you don’t brush your teeth, he will have to take them all out!” You tell me what you think about that! I actually remember this same statement from my mother. I am still afraid of the dentist now!
4. Lies to raise their self-esteem
Wait! What? Let me tell you if you haven’t been reading up. Lying corrodes self-esteem! High self-esteem doesn’t get along with dishonesty and so the latter can only thrive where self-esteem is low. High self-esteem always embraces a basic policy of honesty, in the interest of making open and truthful communication with others and ourselves.
5. Lies to admitting you don’t know the answer
What is wrong about not knowing the answer! Learning together builds relationships and this is such a valuable situation to be in! “Mum! Why do rainbows have seven colours?” Trust me. If you spend half a day finding out with kiddo about rainbows rather than finding excuses that God loves the number 7, you profit much in the learning process with him.
I must emphasise, telling the truth is hard work but it reaps long term results.
I have been meaning to write this post but never found the time. Look how timely this Singapore Police Force announcement came. Let’s introspect on our behaviours as adults.
Oh yes! Keep to your promises. Never take blueberries as bait if you don’t have the intention to give as a reward.
Tips for encouraging honesty in older children
Once children grow old enough to understand the difference between true and not true, it’s good to encourage and support them in telling the truth.
- If your child is telling you something that is imaginary or make-believe, you can simply go along with it. Pretending and imagining are important to your child’s development. Eg. your child might tell you that she’s a super-hero. You could respond by asking him about his super-powers.
- Help your child avoid getting into situations where he feels he needs to lie. Eg. If you see your child has spilled some milk. If you asked “Did you spill the milk?”. He might lie and say no to avoid punishment. To avoid this situation, you could say, “I see there’s an accident with the milk. Let’s clean up”.
- One way to discourage children from obvious lying is to make a joke or exaggerate the untrue statement. Eg. a young child might explain a broken by saying “A man came in and broke it”. You could say something silly like, “Why didn’t you invite him in for dinner?” Continue the joke for a bit until the child confesses. This way, you uncover the lie and teach a lesson without any need for discipline.