From the time our children were very young, we as parents have laid the groundwork for our policy of truth and honesty. We understand through our own life experiences all of the problems with a situation when lying, deception or misdirection is used. We found through learning from these experiences that even though truth and honesty can be hard at times, it is the best way to handle a situation. Keeping these core principles in mind, we spoke honestly with each other about how we want to raise our children with these same values. The problem was, when we started really looking into specific parenting techniques and advice, deception tended to one of the parenting tools of choice. Knowing that this style of parenting was wrong for us, we developed our own way of handling situations.
Our children know, and are reminded often, that they are loved. Not only are they loved, they are loved unconditionally. We tell them the following things:
- I love you no matter what.
- You will get in more trouble if you lie about something than if you tell the truth.
- I may be disappointed by your actions from time to time, but my love for you never changes. Nothing you do will ever make me stop loving you.
- If ever something happens, and you are afraid I will be mad at you, remember that it is most important to me that you tell me what has happened. I might be mad, or I might not be. We can discover a solution together, or I will simply hear what you need to say.
- Some things seem very terrible when they are in your head, but when you talk about them, they are not so bad.
- I love you no matter what.
We have had the opportunity to test some of these statements. Siblings have disagreements, and we as parents try to let them work the majority of these out themselves. However, we have a rule that if someone has gotten hurt or if someone is being threatened, an adult needs to be alerted right away. One day the kids were playing in the backyard. One started crying, so I went out to see what was wrong. She was crying hard and either couldn’t or wouldn’t say what had happened. So I asked her older sister what had happened and she said “NOTHING!” Eventually I got the story that my older daughter had accidentally kicked her sister in the face. I knew this was the learning moment. I gave my older daughter a more harsh punishment than usual, and told her it was for lying, and for not telling an adult when someone got hurt. I told her if she had told the truth about what happened she wouldn’t have been punished. Of course, she also needed to apologize to her sister, because we apologize when we hurt someone, whether by accident or (perish the thought) on purpose.
About a week later, the second part of the teachable moment occurred. This time, my daughter thought she had broken something of mine. She brought it to me, reluctant and wide-eyed. She told me hesitantly what had happened. I told her she had done the right thing by telling me the truth, and that I was proud of her. I said, “You won’t be punished, it seems that you understand what you did was wrong and that you won’t do it again”. She nodded silently and then smiled.
I knew the lesson had stuck as the weeks went on. Our kids tend to think they are going to get in trouble for incidents that are purely accidental. The kids were now much more open to telling us about spilled milk or broken toys. The other important aspect was that they didn’t take this as an open invitation to go crazy and do what they want. They both understood with pure simplicity: it is better to tell the truth.