I’m not sure where we got our insistence that our child tell the truth upon demand, but we parents have it. It’s something worth thinking about because not telling the truth does come so easily to our children whether we like it or not.
Truth is a complicated idea because it is clouded with our opinions and our intake of information, our sources for that information, and our almost burning desire to know, in this case to know if our child is in fact telling us The Truth.
There may be a difference between Truth and The Truth, but again, it’s complicated. Truth is something we all philosophically seek while The Truth is something we believe exists and someone has it.
As parents, what we desperately want from our children is The Truth, as in “telling The Truth,” or more simply as in telling me, your parent, what you did and what all happened. And herein lies our dilemma. Our child knows only his or her truth. He may believe totally in the veracity of his truth, but it may, despite the child’s good intentions, simply be the child’s truth but not The Truth. It may be what the child truly believes happened, but that may not be accurate or really truthful. So the first problem that faces us when we’re seeking The Truth from our child is that by asking or even demanding that our child tell The Truth, is that his truth may be truthful to him, but not true to all observers or participants. It’s his truth but not the universal truth.
The second complicating factor is that the child may have a handle on what he did but because he now realizes it was not something of which to be proud, he does not want to tell you his truth. And to further frustrate us, the child knows that because we don’t know what really happened, he can save himself by telling us something that exonerates him. We know this, too, so we try to get the child to tell us The Truth by bargaining. We tell him things like, “I need to know what happened (The Truth) so that I can help you solve this problem and not get into trouble. I can’t help you if you lie to me. You won’t be in any trouble if you tell The Truth.”
And the final aspect of this dilemma is that we are operating under our own set of illusions, too. We believe our own version of The Truth and therefore we know when to believe our child. It is our truth that tells us that we can tell when our child is lying. Again, that is our truth, but not the universal truth. For The Truth is that we cannot accurately tell when our child is lying!
Studies about truth telling show us that chance gives us a 50-50 possibility of being able to tell if a child is truthful. So how do parents hold up against chance in being able to tell if the child is truthful? Parents are no better than chance, 50-50. You may not believe this because you may think you can tell if your child is telling the truth or not, but in reality you can’t. You’re only as good as chance is.
Oh, a child may feel anxious or uncomfortable when lying to us, but he’s so good at it that we can’t detect it even if we think we can. Remember, we are no better at this than chance is or 50/50. The physical signs that indicate the child is willfully not being truthful are not apparent to the naked eye. For example, when a child lies, his cheeks cool and his nose warms. Special cameras can detect this but not our eyes.
To further complicate our problem is that our children have been practicing avoiding The Truth for years! He learned how to lie somewhere between the ages of 2 and 4 years. He also learned the power of these lies by recognizing that because we didn’t really know The Truth, and he did; he had all the power over the portrayal of The Truth. The child learned how to demonstrate what we thought was honesty with facial expressions and quiet and calm words, and a level of persistence in repeating the story.
Now that you have been confronted with The Truth about children lying, what can your strategy be to encourage your child to be boldly truthful? My suggestion to you is to stop asking him if he is telling The Truth. Second, don’t punish or get mad if you discover that he is lying. In other words, don’t give so much emphasis to The Truth, and instead give your efforts in trying to discover what your child’s problem is that causes him to hide The Truth from you. Of what is he afraid? When you discover that, then you can approach The Truth fearlessly. And you can create a home where children aren’t afraid to make mistakes but are willing to tell the truth about them.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher