Children learn what and who to trust very early in their lives and this is often based on what they see and feel more than what they hear. For example, we might tell our child many times over we are fine, but they can feel we are sad, see the bloodshot eyes, notice our distracted or irritated movements and they know, because they can feel and see it, we are not being honest. One of those clues on their own would have been enough to suggest we are not ‘fine’, but all three together means our own children cannot trust the words that come out of our mouth.
If we look at how we have valued honesty in our homes, has it been one of our foundational pillars? Why are we not being honest from the start?
Perhaps we might have told a ‘little white lie’ under the guise of trying to protect our children or thinking ‘we knew best for them’.
When we tell ‘a little white lie’ or avoid honesty with children, what can happen is the child learns to mistrust the communication they are getting from their body, because the person who is supposed to be honest with them, and supposed to trust ‘the most’ starts to tell them they are wrong, and what they are feeling is not true. For us, in our need to keep the peace, to claim a bit of space for ourselves or perhaps to just end the conversation, we tell them whatever we believe will stop the conversation to give ourselves a break. Yet, children can feel stress, unease or anxiety and can start to doubt their own inner radar because their body is communicating to them that what they are feeling is not matching what they are hearing. We are, in effect, telling our children by our behaviour that lying is acceptable, it is normal, it is part of growing up.
What is our role as parents?
I am sure we can all agree it is not to teach children that lying is normal. As much as we want them to trust us as parents, our job is to share the importance of trusting their own inner radar, because that is what gives them the inner knowing for making sound decisions when we are not around. That is what will support them to know when they are being honest and truthful with themselves and feel that sense in others.
We want to equip children to be able to navigate life without us.
We all feel everything, but unless this has been our lived experience from young, we may need to remind ourselves of this fact first. Let’s go back to that example of being upset.
We have had a row and we are upset, but say we are fine. The child knows we are upset but they learn to ignore that, as we are insisting that we are fine. The honesty here is that we are lying to the child in front of us because we perhaps don’t feel ready to talk about it, but they know we are lying. There is a dissonance in the body as the feeling doesn’t match the words. This creates an unease in the child’s body that they have trouble reconciling – they know us, we are transparent to them, they can feel the sadness, anger, frustration, but the words they are hearing from us are telling them they are wrong. Again, allowing that honesty from ourselves, we may not want to talk to them about why we are upset, it may well be inappropriate, but that may also be a skill that our children need to learn.
Perhaps we could say - “yes, I am upset but I am not keen to talk about it at the moment or I’m not ready to talk about it, so could you give me some time to understand how I am feeling first?” Then our children get confirmed in their knowing that what they were feeling was true. They also learn to respect that another may not be ready to talk in that moment, it may not be appropriate for them to know about, even though they want to know or help. We might even go back to them later and say, “thank you for noticing that I was upset, it really helped me see that I could get some support for myself, and I have been able to talk to someone”.
This is a very good skill for them to learn for school as well.
If we are told what we are feeling is wrong, if the people we trust the most lie to us, we get confused about why we are feeling what we are clearly feeling. It is easy to see how this can lead to unease, suspicion, mistrust, worry and further to self-doubt, low self-esteem, stress and anxiety.
Being more honest is a win-win situation
Trust should never be something we feel we have to ‘build’, rather, it is living prepared to be seen, no perfection needed. It is one of our foundational pillars.
Honesty, trust and truth in families starts with us.
Image by - Anh Tuan To on Unsplash