How often do you tell your child to be honest and get angry at him or her when he or she doesn’t tell the truth? How often do you not tell the truth to your child(ren)… or their other parent, teacher, relative, boss, neighbor, etc.?
People forget that children learn by the behaviour they witness. If you tell them “Eat well” by devouring a bag of french fries or always taking them to your local fast food restaurant, they will have a distorted view of good nutrition.
It is not always easy to tell your children the truth. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Children don’t think like you do. They are very concrete in their thinking processes. This is due to brain development. Abstract thinking does not develop until middle school.
Until then, they are not able to make generalizations or understand concepts. Depending on their age, they use cause-and-effect discussions about right and wrong. “If you’re lying, you’ll go to your room.” When they develop abstract thinking, you can say, “If you’re lying to me, it means I can’t trust you.”
Speak according to their age. It’s an extension of their brain development. You will use different words to your three-year-old than you would to your 15-year-old. If you cry and your child asks “Why”, give an appropriate answer. “Remember when you were sad when your toy broke but you’re not sad anymore? I’m sad right now, but it’s okay” is all you need to say to a young child. You could say “I’m hurt” to an eight-year-old because he has experienced pain. To a teenager, you could say, “So-and-so and I had a fight.
Children take hold of your feelings. When a family comes for therapy, we therapists want the two-year-old to be present for family therapy sessions.
How the young child behaves, who they talk to, when they are in distress says more about the family than words. Young children feel stress even when older people try to deny their presence. Children also do this at home.
When you lie, they don’t trust you. Nothing upsets a child more than lying to them. You think you can’t trust them when they lie… they can’t trust you when you lie… and often they won’t trust you for the rest of your life.
If you wonder why your child doesn’t seem to believe you, look at how often your words and actions don’t match.
Don’t say too much. Putting your children in the middle of your problems with their other parent is emotional abuse. Telling them the details of your economic problems is too much for them to handle.
They are children, even if they are teenagers. It is not their responsibility to look after your marriage, work or friendships. It’s up to them to get involved and help you. Give them everything they need to know.
If their eyes glaze over and they don’t listen, you’re saying too much. If they ask questions, you know they want more information.
Sometimes they need to know more than they can understand. Bad things happen in life… divorce, death, illness, dismissal, losing your home and more. You need to give them the news even if they are not old enough to fully understand it. Answer the questions as fully and completely as their ability to understand. You will know what they can handle from the questions they ask you.
A young child only needs to know that you have to move. A college student can put up with the fact that his father has lost his job and we can’t afford this house. A 15 year old may know that he has gone bankrupt. Use it as a teaching moment.