With my children, I am emulating a policy used in my own family growing up. It was about never keeping secrets. I grew up in a home where we talked about everything, all the time. Having my own children, I’ve realized why.
Secrets are Trouble
For the most part secrets are trouble and create problems where there may not have been any. It’s like building a porch without support beams. It may hold for a while, but eventually, something is bound to break. Secrets lead to lying, which leads to doing things behind parent’s backs, and hiding those actions. If they can hide small things from us, surely they have the capacity to hide bigger and bigger things, until finally they are teenagers and we have no idea who they are, what their opinions are and they are drifting farther and farther away from us.
Talk About Everything Together
We are actively teaching them to talk and to be continuously open with us. We are starting young with ours by always talking about everything with them. My childhood family did it most around the dinner table, talking about our day, sharing what happened, what we like, didn’t like and what we were thinking about. We were never quick to leap from the table because of our conversations.
The best way to know what is going on in your child’s head and heart is to talk about it. If something happens, ask them what they thought about it. If someone hurts their feelings, talk about it. If they won a race or an award, talk about it. Talk about what is real, what is right now, about their life and their cares, good and bad. Everything. Talk while doing chores, while painting fingernails, while sitting on the porch, while driving to town, all through the day. Keep those communication lines open. Always. Regardless if it feels weird at first.
Live by Example
Openness and honesty may come at a price. You may have to sacrifice some of your own innermost thoughts to show your children how it is done. Children are mirrors. They will mimic us, whether we want them to or not. If I’m sassy, they will be sassy (no matter how many times I tell them not to.) If I say “crap” they say it too. I’m sure you have your own lovely examples of your children mirroring you too.
It may be risky to some, especially if you’re not practiced in it. Share your innermost thoughts and feelings with your children. They always know when you are upset. Tell them why. Let them love on you when you are down. Let them feel trusted with your information. (With the exception of extremely adult information, of course.)
In 2012, I was in physical pain from March to December. I would periodically slip into depression. I wanted to hide how I felt from them. I wanted to pretend to be strong so they didn’t feel like their world was falling apart. But I homeschool. They are with me 24/7. They knew when I was in pain anyway. So I was honest about it. I told them when I was hurting really bad. I told them when I was sad because I was hurting. And you know what they did? They didn’t leave me to wallow. My son gave me more hugs. My daughters kissed my boo-boo. They all prayed for me whenever they saw me in pain. I trusted them with my pain and as a result we grew closer.
Keeping a pattern of openness and honesty in the family creates a safe place for children to be themselves, not have to hide and to always feel accepted. We can be the example of openness and honesty, so they can emulate it.
It is kind of obvious to say “Never lie” especially after saying “Be open and honest” but somehow children figure out how to lie. They start lying around age 3 to 5. (The smarter ones learn it earlier, I think.)
I remember getting a punishment for lying in addition to the punishment for the actual crime. So with my own kids it is the same. Because it could be something little they are lying about when they are 10 years-old. For example, “You broke the vase but hid it under the end table and you said your sister did it?”
When they are teenagers it could end up being something bigger like, “You told me you were the one driving when you wrecked the car and it was actually your friend, who is not covered on our car insurance.”
But in the same way, you may have seen the look on your young child’s face when the great debate is occurring. To lie or not to lie. Interestingly, there are certain personalities who are prone to lie, they would choose lying over conflict or to save face. I have to encourage mine choose the right way every time so that lying doesn’t become a pattern in their life.
I am proud of my children when they choose to be truthful, especially when what they are admitting will get them into trouble. So, in an effort to promote honesty we sometimes reward them for it. (When the moment is right.) We must first deal with whatever trouble they’ve made and give out a punishment to fit the crime. I have taken a child out for ice cream for being honest with me. While we licked our ice cream cones, I talked to her about telling the truth and how important it was and thanked her for being forthright, to reinforce it. We fist-bumped and talked about whatever else was on her mind.
Openness is an endurance sport. Keep up the good work. It will surely pay off with open, honest and healthy adults.