As I drove past an elementary school I noticed their plaque out front. It read, “We believe in honesty and integrity.” Good, I thought, so do I, and doesn’t everyone? Of course we do! But it’s not enough just to believe in those values and want to transmit them to our children, we have to be proactive in creating situations through which our children can gain appreciation of these values. For it is only when children understand the importance to them of these values that they incorporate them into their own lives, into their own persons. But getting our children to appreciate and live these values, well, that’s the hard part, because too often we don’t know how to “get” our children to behave in the way we want them to!
My husband always talks about living values by example. That is important because our children are little mimickers. They watch and listen closely to our behaviors and to our words. When we’re honest and they witness our honesty in action, they can see we do believe and value it. Likewise, when they see us telling those “little white lies,” they begin to incorporate those into their lives.
We adults have lots of trouble when children lie to us. But we shouldn’t, because after all, it’s normal, all children lie. Children lie for many reasons: they wish reality were different than it is and they think by saying what they wish were true makes it true; they don’t remember what happened so they tell what they think we want to hear or what they think might have happened; they are afraid to tell the truth for fear of what we might do to them; they don’t know the truth and feel shameful in revealing that they don’t know it; they want to protect themselves or a friend from some unpleasant consequence; they actually believe what they are telling is true even if it isn’t.
Another point to remember about children lying is that some of this is developmental. Young children, primary-aged children of 3, 4, and even 5, might be accused of lying when in fact they are truly unable to understand what it means to tell the truth. We are just whistling Dixie when we try to impress upon them the importance of telling the truth. And worse yet, if we pressure them or punish them in hopes of getting them to tell the truth, we only cause our children to become confused and fearful. In some ways they are clueless and we don’t know that.
So, when should we begin expecting our children to be capable of understanding this value? During the Age of Reason, which is in the second plane of development, the ages of 6 to 12 years. And it is during this age that we do observe that children, to our dismay, are not always truthful. Why? Most often children of this age usually lie to us because they are afraid for us to know the truth. They are afraid of what we might do to them when we find out the truth. We often think that if we punish our children for lying that they will learn not to lie. However, using fear to get our children to be honest does not cause our children to be honest. Using fear to get our children to be honest does not cause our children to be honest. (That’s not a typo, it is repetition for emphasis!) It only teaches them to be smarter in the ways they lie to us. The only way a child will come to value being honest and telling the truth is when he is not afraid that his parents will get mad. And if we want to teach our children to be truthful, we must start by removing all the fear for our children.
— to be continued
Learning to Lie – part 2
Once children learn that they can trust their parents and can be truthful with us without fear of retribution, then the next lesson about honesty can be learned. That lesson is about learning to accept responsibility for what he does and says. Children can be helped to learn this if parents discuss the problems of lying in a neutrally charged setting. This means that when we discover that our children have lied to us, we don’t get mad and fuss at them. Instead, when we are calm, we have a thoughtful conversation with them. We discuss the possible effects of what the child said or did. Children aren’t very good at projecting what might happen if they do a certain something or even lie about a certain something. They have difficulty with cause and effect. That’s why they get themselves into trouble, so often the kind of trouble we just scratch our heads about and wonder how they could have been so short sighted! They just don’t see what the results might be. They are not insightful yet. Our conversation should focus on questioning our child about whether the effects of his action are what he had wanted. Usually they are not. Then we discuss what might have been done differently that might have resulted in a more favorable outcome. We both, parents and child, offer our ideas and all ideas are pondered. Our goal is for our child to have an “ah ha! moment” and to see that the lie she told didn’t really make life better but made it worse. Lying didn’t produce the results she wanted so maybe the truth would have caused a better outcome. We want our child to see the value for him in being honest; we want honesty to work for him. Then and only then, will our children value honesty and incorporate it into their lives.
Remember, unless our children learn to tell us the truth without fear that we will get mad, they will not be able to tell us the truth when they are in trouble and might really need our help, help that we would want to give to our children but without their truthful revelations we wouldn’t know how desperately they might need our help. Don’t destroy your child’s chance to be brave by making him afraid to tell you the truth. Remember, we’re talking about children, our children. They are, after all, only children, and they deserve an environment that safely fosters their growth, a home and a school where care is taken to teach them, not to punish them, to encourage them, not to discourage them, to accept them, not reject them, to guide and direct them, not to stymie them.
The job’s a hard one, but you’re up to it. Just look to your heart for the answers.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher