Choosing Our Words: Everyday Honesty With Children

By Guest Blogger Alice Romolo

Welcome to the February 2013 Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival: Honesty

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted by Authentic Parenting and Living Peacefully with Children. This month our participants have written about authenticity through honesty. We hope you enjoy this month’s posts and consider joining us next month when we share about Self-Expression and Conformity.

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Alice's daughter swinging

My children are not even three years old, yet they have been lied to many times by the adults they know. The lying is not a deliberate manipulation; I believe it is simply about adult convenience more than anything else. The people perpetrating these everyday lies do not believe they are doing wrong, rather they are thoughtlessly perpetuating the general lack of respect for children that is the norm in our society. At its most basic, we can say that people lie to children because they can; because it is easier to say, “There are no more cookies,” then it is to say, “I do not want you to have any more.” Before a certain age, that child has no way of seeing for themselves whether or not it is true.

Alice's twins splashing in a puddle

A favorite phrase, among certain adults I know, almost always starts with “You don’t want…” as in, “You don’t want to touch that,” or “You don’t want to do that.” It makes me crazy to hear this said to my children or anyone else. Clearly, they do “want…” Clearly, you are telling them what YOU don’t want, so why not be honest? You cannot imagine the added level of cooperation you will get with this simple change. And if you add to that a reason, in line with their development and ability to understand, then all the better. This benefits your child in two ways; first it forces you to be more considerate and reasonable, if you need to come up with something better than, “because I said so,” and secondly, your child is learning real reasons for why things are a certain way, rather than learning to follow arbitrary, meaningless rules without question. If you want your children to one day be adults who question things when something doesn’t seem right rather than follow along with the crowd, then it is vital that you allow them to question you now.

Alice's daughter

Another common and equally untruthful phrase used against children is, “You’re ok,” when the child clearly isn’t. Do you really think that telling them that they don’t really feel the way they do is effective? What is the goal, exactly? Again, looking at this with a longterm perspective vs. short term convenience, it makes very little sense to convince an impressionable child to ignore their internal feelings and listen to someone else. Even if that someone else is you–because it won’t always be you; eventually it will be their friends or someone else. This tactic is very effective in producing a child who, after continually being forced to choose between trusting himself or the very influential, all-powerful people he looks up to, trusts neither.

Alice and her daughter

Lying to children insults their intelligence, robs them of their autonomy, and takes advantage of their size and abilities. It erodes their sense of trust in you and people in general. Children do not understand the difference between the lies you feel are trivial and the really important ones that they may eventually tell you.

Alice's daughters playing in leaves

As children, we are programmed to lie to protect ourselves from shame and punishments. When lies regularly become safer than the truth, this does not magically end when we reach adulthood. I have found from experience that this insidious “Lying to protect oneself,” continues to cause problems throughout life, especially with partners and other close relationships. My husband, for example, is eternally unable to admit he is wrong, when I first try to tell him something. At least not without an argument lasting anywhere from five minutes to an hour or more. This has been especially true since embarking on my radical, full term breastfeeding, respectful parenting, and soon-to-be unschooling journey into motherhood. To say this has challenged everything he has ever known would be an understatement. It has challenged me as well, but this was a challenge I chose; he has been dragged, at times kicking and screaming, along for the ride. As a result, there have been many arguments–big ones.Things are improving though; partly through my increasing ability to communicate more effectively, thus making him see reason sooner (because I AM always right, after all) and the fact that I have been making a concerted effort to ensure he feels safe to put his ego aside and really listen. It wasn’t always like this, mostly due to my own significant issues with trust, and unconsciously held beliefs that being right at any cost is more important than peace and happiness. Because to be wrong is death in the eyes of most children; it is shame, loneliness, confusion and pain–emotional and often physical. So I choose my words carefully; I strive for authenticity in all that I do. I am a work in progress, and I don’t lie to my children.

Alice Romolo; mother, daughter, wife; student of life

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APBC - Authentic ParentingVisit Living Peacefully with Children and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in next month’s Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

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(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 22 with all the carnival links.)

Comments

  1. Thank you for this. Was just having a discussion about being more present in my words, especially around my child. She may be only 3 months now, but I catch myself in a lot of things like “Good job” or “Youre ok” and I hate it!

  2. I’ve held to my belief that lying to my children is unacceptable since my first son was born. This has often put me in a position (with my 5 year old) of having to admit I am/was wrong, or that my motivations are selfish or emotional. I find it refreshing and freeing to be completely honest with *someone* (since that s not how the world operates). This has made it difficult to explain to him *why* everyone lies constantly.

    As for off-handed lies…I would add to the list “hush” and “it’s ok.” I find it’s easier to remember to be present and choose my words when I have alternatives on hand. “I’m here” instead of “it’s ok” … tho I haven’t find a good alternative to shush/hush yet…

  3. Very good thoughts, thanks. As an attachment parent of 3 boys past the toddler stage (two teens and a 10 year old) I’d like to add that continually demonstrating respect for children from a very young age pays off in the respect they demonstrate to you – and others – as they grow up. They will make you proud as a parent.

    One of the comments mentions having alternate phrases on hand – great point! It is as important to learn and practice new behaviors as it is to discard those bad behaviors we want to move away from.

    Good conversation, thanks!

  4. Couldn’t agree more.
    I watch other people lie to their children theb they have to back up that lie with more lies.
    Why not tell the truth in the first place? Your child deserves nothing but the truth especially from their own parents

  5. Oh how I hate when people tell kids: it doesn’t hurt… how can you know.
    One guy told my daughter her head didn’t hurt after she bumped t really hard into a window. I got so angry. How can you tell a kid who’s clearly in pain that it doesn’t hurt? How is that going to be helpful?
    Thanks for your submission
    Laura

  6. I’ve noticed that how people treat children is how they were treated as children and how in turn they treat other adults, with respect or dismissal. As parents, we have the responsibility to learn how to treat our children with respect, so that they in turn can grow into humans who respect others.

  7. This is a great post on a subject that needs to be considered – everyone – but especially parents! We have been using “You’re with mommy/daddy now. You’re safe” instead of “you’re ok” and making sure that we tell our children “we’re all out” only when we actually ARE. I find that telling them that when it’s truthful teaches them a good lesson in living as well, because my preschooler always says, “well, then, get some more please” and I explain that we can’t just have them appear – we have to make/buy/go to the store for things.

    Honestly, I think a lot of the lying that goes on in parenting really is just complacency and not realizing that a white lie is still that – a LIE.

  8. Hi FIVE!! I feel like I could have written your post, your words ring so real for me!! It’s still a lie. It doesn’t matter who does it. Imagine how you’d react to the person you respect most in the world, and then treat every human being that way. Love this post.

  9. In response to the second commenter, I have found that a good alternative to “hush/shush” is whispering, “listen,” to my toddler. Her response is to whisper back to me while pointing to her ear.

  10. Thanks pertaining to giving these types of superior subject matter

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