Sometimes when my children want to watch TV after having finished their quota for the day I am not in the mood to launch into long explanations... I take the easy way out and say, “The TV is not working” or “Cable is down” and save myself an hour of discussion and wailing!!
On another day when they started crying about wanting to go to the beach, I glibly replied, “The beach is closed today.” And they kept quiet. Ah! That was easy.
When I need to take them to the doctor, I don't want to tell them in advance as the crying will start from the previous day. I just pretend we are going out and deal with their reactions when we get to the doctor’s clinic.
In doing all this I feel a twinge of guilt. Am I the only parent who is not honest with my kids? I talked to some other parents who admitted to doing the same saying “Yes of course we do it. How would we manage otherwise? Can you imagine trying to reason with a three-year-old as to why you cannot take her for ice-cream at ten in the night?”
Though it was a relief to know that I was not alone in using these tactics, a thought occurred to me. For the sake of short-term gain was I causing the relationship long term pain?
As parents, there are many situations where we can manipulate our kids and save ourselves the effort of dealing with their distress. It’s so much easier to blame the beach for being closed than being the mean parent who does not fulfill their wish!
But what are the consequences of these actions? Someday my child will come to know that the beach does not close. That I pulled out the cable quietly. That I am not to be trusted.
Trust between parent and child lays the foundation for a lifelong strong relationship. One may think that these small “white lies” are harmless but this is not true. When children do not trust their parents, it shows in their behaviour. For example, a toddler may be really clingy and this may be because we have been sneaking out of the house without telling him. He may have kept searching for us and now he thinks that he better hold on to us because who knows when we may disappear? At other times, children may be whining or throwing tantrums because they simply don't believe us. And this is true of every age- not just for small children. Our children cooperate with us much more easily when they really trust us.
For parents to build a relationship of trust:
It is important to be honest and open with our child however hard it is. If they are crying for ice cream, we don’t need to pretend the ice cream shop has closed. Just say firmly and with empathy, “I am sorry (name of child). We cannot have ice cream today.”
We can give our child age-appropriate information about when, where and what time we are going or returning, or where we are taking them.
We don’t need to tell white lies to avoid facing our child's big feelings. For example, “Don’t worry I will be standing at the school gate all the time till you come out.” When children realize that we were not standing there, we break their trust. Let us be courageous enough to be truthful even if the truth brings up a lot of feelings and yet show the child we are there to comfort him.
When we are honest with our children, we can experience the joy of deep connection owing to the child really believing and trusting us. We can see our children blossom when they feel secure at all times.
Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connections in families.