Lying is an interesting phenomenon among us humans. We like to think it’s relegated only to children and politicians, but by playing the blame game we as a culture of people encourage ourselves to lie to each other. We are extremely critical of others, we’re good at being judgmental, and we can easily find blame because we’re looking for it as a way to protect ourselves. We create situations where the only way to save face is to lie. So it’s not just children and politicians, it’s the rest of us too who in defense, when backed into a corner, find the truth too illusive.
While I may not be able to affect any real change in the whole of our society, I would like to minimize children’s need for lying by creating an environment in which children can be safe to tell the truth and be free from being blamed for their behaviors. And if not for all children, at least for the children at our school, for your children and my grandchildren.
As you know I spend a lot of my working day with children, and I have focused on teaching children how to express themselves verbally in problem-solving situations. It goes like this: A child may have an encounter with another child. By our standards it may be mild and even insignificant, but from the child’s perspective it is important. The child may choose several paths for a solution from ignoring it to acting on it, but if I’m involved it is because the child chose to solve it with an adult. The child lets me know of her wishes by writing her name and the child’s name with whom she has a problem on a small slip of paper and putting it in a basket on my desk. As I have time I look at those slips of paper and then call the children into my room to talk about it. I try to create an emotionally safe environment for the children to discuss their issues. I am not judgmental, I am not interested in making the children feel badly about the situation in which they find themselves, I am not trying to get to the bottom of the incident or to figure out who did what to whom. I am not looking for blame, but I am looking for solutions. I am interested in having an open dialogue among the children where feelings can be discussed honestly and where children are not afraid of what’s going to happen to them. Punishment is not part of this endeavor and children are not required to apologize as part of the dialogue.
By removing these threats and by relinquishing my adult power over them and instead giving them some power, the children learn to trust me and are willing to work on solving problems peacefully. When we look for solutions in this way we find them, and many times I am so amazed at the ease with which the children are able to solve their own problems. Any solution must be reached together and must work for everyone involved. Children are the inventors of the solutions to their problems, not the concerned adults.
There are a few by products of this kind of working with children. First, the problems get solved. But more than that they get solved in such a considerate way that it almost takes one’s breath away. There is no shouting, not even any arguing. That is replaced by these children of 6, 7, and 8 years of age appearing rational and reasonable as they take turns at talking about their feelings and what will or won’t work for them. Frequently a child will ask for a verbal apology and then accept it graciously. The children then usually smile at each other and walk out cheerfully. But probably the most astonishing thing is the absence of lying. For in a safe environment lying isn’t really necessary.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher