The Honesty Trap

How do we persuade children that honesty is the best policy? Is it, actually, the best policy? Are there not some grey areas where it most definitely is NOT the best policy and, indeed, a big fat lie is the best way to go?

My Sensitive Soul is painfully honest. I clearly remember the Christmas when they were small and The Tall One had handcrafted a gift for his smaller brother. Sensitive Soul opened it while The Tall One stood over him, hopping from foot to foot with excitement.

Tall One: ‘I made it for you!

A brief expectant silence while Sensitive Soul turns the gift over in his hands

Sensitive Soul: ‘Yeah, but it’s not very good is it?’

Clearly, in this case, a little white lie would have been good if only to save the rest of us from the fall out, but how do you teach children when it’s ok to fib/stretch the truth/tell a whopper and when it really isn’t?

Last weekend my daughter announced that a man had offered her friend a pound as they were going into the park. All my alarm bells went off at once. I calmly (ish) asked her to explain and then rang the friend’s mother to get her side of the story. After much to-ing and fro-ing I finally got to the bottom of it.

Daughter and friend had gone to the local shop to buy sweets, when they got to the counter they didn’t have enough money and the man in the queue behind them offered  some to make up the shortfall. Kind, if a little foolish, on his part when so  much is open to misinterpretation and adults are not encouraged to talk to or help children which are not their own (that’s another blog post so I’ll hop off that bandwagon for now).

I had two issues to tackle as a result of this event. The first was to take the opportunity after an event which had scared her but not (thankfully) put her in any danger, to talk again about how to conduct yourself when you are out and about and how to stay safe.The second was the importance of truth. She had chosen to stretch the truth a bit and say the events had happened at the park rather than in the shop because she thought I would be upset about her buying sweets. This had put a very different slant on events and almost saw me calling the police to search for a man who had only been trying to help.

Parenting is such a minefield. All we can do it take our cues from each situation as it arises and take every opportunity to talk things through. We all learn from experience and we have to have experiences in order to learn. I cannot wrap them up in cotton wool until they are grown, much as I would like to. It is our job to do our very best to equip them with the skills to survive and flourish and let them stride out on their own.

I hope that what she took away from this was the knowledge that nothing she does will stop me loving her, that anything can be talked through and sorted out. That the truth is nearly always the better option. (And that it is fine for her to go and buy sweets.)

How do you handle lies and truth?

(Truths and Lies Image: Flickr Creative Commons. Flickr user xtrarant)


Filed under Children's Development, family life, Motherhood, Parenting, Uncategorized

8 responses to “The Honesty Trap

  1. I think you teach them not to lie, but when they’re old enough you start to discuss the grey areas – “white lies”. i’v ejust introduced the concept to my 4 1/2 yr old, quickly, before he starts pointing people out on the bus and calling them old/ugly/fat/skinny etc In any case the ability to deceive is a key development stage, and the earlier they master it the smarter they are. It’s called “theory of mind”. Basically the ability to understand that you can know something that someone else doesn’t, and so learn to manipulate that. See, i did learn something in my pscyhology course!


    • I’m impressed Milk! I think you’re right and it is also the drip feed method of attack…don’t assume that because you’ve said it once or twice that it has gone in. Also, in my case, just because you have said it umpteen times before to umpteen children does not mean that the one you are currently talking to has heard it enough times!

    • we talked about the ‘look at the FAT person’ issue as soon as DD could talk!!! She seemed to have a fascination with the subject – so we invented a code phrase. I will not share it here in case anyone I know sees it!

      but it might be ” Oh no I left the grill on!” for example, or “I need a milkshake”

  2. What weird timing. Just yesterday my daughter had a friend over who was explaining to us about “white lies”. I asked her what one was and she said, “It’s when you say something not quite true so you don’t hurt someone’s feelings. You don’t say, This food is disgusting; you say, Thank you for cooking this food.”

    I’ll overlook the fact that at the time she was eating a meal I had cooked…

  3. Great post, and yes they do embellish a tale sometimes don’t they! almost always I have to remind DH that DD is prone to ‘stretch ‘ the truth. We try honesty as the best policy here too, even at the expense of someone feeling a bit miffed. We do tackle how to avoid saying something nasty though. So while you might thing ‘ugly new coat’ you might *say* “ooh that looks warm”🙂

  4. We had a similar present incident last week – I’d made the mistake of buying a book as a birthday present for a four year old boy. He opened the bag and said “that’s not a toy, I don’t want it!”. Perfectly understandable as he’d had quite fixed expectations, but somewhat mortifying for all the parents!

    I’d like to think that my kids will always feel able to tell me the truth, but I know what I was like as a teen and actually, there are times when I don’t tell my parents the whole truth now. I guess we just have to try to teach them about when the truth is really important and hope they stay safe.

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