PRESERVING THE JOY OF REALNESS, HONESTY AND CANDOR
Last time I tried to give three-year-old Josh a bath, the big new shampoo bottle was empty. “Did you dump it out, Josh?” His brow furrowed as he anticipated the worst. “Yes, Dad.” We have a family law against “dumping,” and Josh knows the law, so he needed a little punishment. But I praised him so much for telling the truth that it outbalanced the punishment.
As I dried Josh, I had candor and honesty on my mind and happened to hear Saren, now six, in whom we had tried so hard to preserve that quality. She was in her bedroom with a new friend from school. They were discussing their dolls.
Saren: “This doll has a problem. Her skirt has lost its elastic, so it slips right off.”
Friend: Let’s tie a string around it.”
(Silence for several minutes.)
Saren: It scares me when Miss Christie calls on me to read in school. Does it scare you?
Friend: A little.
Saren: I’m getting over it, though.
Friend: The more you do it, the easier it gets.
Saren: I guess so. There, we got the skirt almost ready.
Friend: Saren, do you like me?
Saren: Of course, silly. I like everything about you.
Saren: Except I didn’t like it when you played with Patty at recess–but Mommy says I was just jealous.
Friend: What’s jealous?
Saren: Not wanting someone to have more fun than you.
Friend: I like you, too, Saren.
To be honest, to be open, to talk freely about the real feelings–what a joy!
Example. Be as real and open as your children are. Verbalise your real feelings, fears and insecurities as well as your joys and loves. Show control, but show honesty! Tell them how you feel–“I’m upset about what happened this afternoon, so I got angrier with you than I should have.” Never let them hear you lie about anything to anyone.
Reinforcement and praise. Whatever they get attention for, they’ll probably do again; whatever they get praise for, they’ll very likely do again; whatever they get joy and praise out of, they’ll almost certainly do again. Encourage them to always tell how they feel–to tell not only you, but also other family members, teachers and friends.
Honesty discussion. Ask the children, “Do you know what it means to tell the truth?” Add to the children’s answers, if necessary, to bring out that telling the truth means to tell things as they are: What really happened, what you really think and how you really feel.
Questions & Answers. Example of a question: If you accidentally bumped into your mother’s plant and knocked some leaves off it and then told Mother that the baby pulled them off, would that be telling the truth? (No) What would that be? (A lie.)
Before going on to the next situation, ask, “How do you think you would feel if you told a lie?” (Sad, bad, worried, ashamed, awful.)
Another question example: What if you forgot to wash your hands for lunch and your mother said, “Did you wash your hands?” If you said, “No, I forgot,” would that be telling the truth? (Yes.)
Bedtime is a good time for a little honest, important dialogue between parent and child. Years ago we started a tradition of asking each child as he was tucked in, “What was your `happy’ and your `sad’ today?” Children like to think back through the day to recognise and talk about emotions. “My happy was when my friend came over to play,” or “when I got two snacks,” or “when I jumped in the leaf pile,” or “when Daddy came home.” “My sad was when Lisa wouldn’t play with me after school,” or “when I couldn’t hop very well in hopscotch,” or “when I cut my finger,” or “I didn’t have any sads today.”
The answers open up quick, golden chances to talk about real feelings. “How did it feel to play with Susan?” “Why do you suppose Lisa wouldn’t play? Did something sad happen to her?”