Teach your child how NOT to Lie
This article is a sequel - so we almost insist that you read the first article before you read this one - click here to read "Teach your child how to lie"
But just like the prequel, this article's title is also misleading. Most of you who read the first article understood that it was not about 'teaching your child to lie', but about the realization that it is WE (parents) who invariably do things in such a way that the child learns how to tell lies - he or she was not born like this.
In the same way, we cannot teach the child NOT to tell lie. Lie he or she will. Just like when a child learns how to ride a bike, the child is bound to fall. Falling off the bike is intrinsic to learning how to ride. In much the same way, telling lies is intrinsic to learning how to be and stay honest.
We don't teach children how NOT to fall from the bike! But alas, in my observation, too many parents are more keen on teaching the child how NOT to lie - rather then teaching them how to tell truth.
So let's start with a premise, a presumption - that it is fallacious to teach children not to lie. Let's teach them to tell truth, be honest. And let's accept that much as they will try to do this, they may still slip, tell lies, and that this is part of the process of living. Not something to be guilty about - but something to use as awareness, of how we can ride the honesty bull.
I call it as a BULL as truth is not easy to tell. Truth is as savage as a lie: it requires courage to live with, to tell and hold on to. I consider telling truth as much of a challenge as telling a lie. Given this background, children would need training, support and most of all encouragement to tell truth.
When they tell a lie, they don't need people around to brand them as liars. They don't need lecturers whom make their entire thinking look petty. They don't need analytical character assassins or moral police.
When a child falls of the bike, the child needs a compassionate support. Sensitive adults who can help them discover paths which will make more sense to them - in the long run.
So how do we facilitate this journey; how do we become the coach rather than the referee. How do we make the honest in a child more aware, and the liar more discriminative.
We present five guidelines, using the acronym T-R-U-T-H.
Even if the child tells the most blatant lie - simply accept it. No discussion or debates, no counter arguments, no revelations, no pinning down. Such an implicit faith - messages to the child that finally he or she is more important that even the statements he or she makes. That neither the ends nor the means are important, rather how "he is" - is most important. This kind of unconditional trust - leaves the child with an ability to discriminate - himself - of what is right and wrong. It leaves the child with all the roles - of the accused, of the defending and accusing lawyer and of the judge. Can't think of a better way to train a more balanced conscience. But most importantly it makes the child feel valued, special and "human".
My child told me "Aunty said its okay if you do not do any homework today, since you have to go for your friend's b'day party". I said in a simple plain tone, "Its okay to not to do home work some days. You can tell aunty that I was tired after the party".
A cartoon I had seen shows a person in the court taking the oath, "I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth - from my perspective".
A child is really trying his best. He or she is looking at the situation in one way - and in that way of looking, what the child says - "feels" like the truth. Just like when we look from earth (point of view) and exclaim that sun rises in the east - while in reality, we all know, sun does not rise anywhere - it stays in its place - it is we (earth) who go round the sun. So approach with an assumption that the child is telling the truth, he is righteous (from his perspective).
And if you happen to have another perspective - help the child discover the other perspective (do not push it down the child's throat).
Start with something like "I understand what you are saying. Can we also look at this situation in another way"? (realise we say 'another way' and not the 'right' way).
Given the above two, there must be some intention that the child is fulfilling by saying and doing whatever is he is saying and doing. The larger goal is to understand that intention.
My son came and said, "Put a band aid - I'm hurt on my hand". My wife responded, "Oh you like band aids". He said, "Yes", with a smile now.
Once the child realises that the intention is understood, he feels that he is understood - then where is the need of truth or lies. Isn't that our biggest need in life - to be understood - rather to tell lies or tell truths?
The other advantage of going for understanding is then you can open up doors of exploring "other ways" of the child expressing or fulfilling his intentions, leaving the "cooked up way" aside to wither away on its own.
If your child came to you and said that he tried to ride the bike but couldn't - what would your response be? Most probably we'll all encourage with a - "try again tomorrow". Can we not give the child another chance? Again assuming that the child tried his best to tell the truth - but could not - so lets try again the next time.
A child came to me and said, "Uncle, my mummy said that I can go home whenever I want - my driver is waiting - so I am going". I said "Okay and what will you tell me tomorrow? He hesitated. I said, "Tomorrow you can tell me the same thing or tell me anything else". He thought for a minute and said, "Actually uncle, I Just want to....."
It does take guts to tell the truth. Many truths are unpleasant while the lies are comforting. In view of such a biased conflict, a child's attempt to not tell the truth is just a matter of courage, not of habit. To give courage - please en-courage.
Let truth be a hypothesis. In our experience - many a times, children are not able to project the consequences of telling the truth. Often they imagine the worst (read the first article to understand how we as parents instill this line of thinking). In most cases their own image of self, of how they should be - interferes with a larger view of the consequences that await them if they follow the path of truth. (E.g. "I do not want to look like a fool, so let me say a lie and get away from here")
So a good strategy is to help them create a hypothetical path of truth.
A child went to her mother and said, "I am not feeling well, I do not feel like going to the school." The Mother responded, "Okay, what if you were to go to school, what will happen? She mumbled something to do with her not able to study. Mother continued, "What if you were able to study?" The child said something about her not enjoying her day? Mother continued, "What if you were able to enjoy" She became angry and stamping her feet said, "I cannot enjoy because I haven't done my homework."
So through hypothetical thinking or even role plays - we can help children clarify their own thinking and become more honest in thinking and expression.
Let us end this - with a different note - learning from a story of Mulla Nassirudin
Mulla once had a friend come over, requesting to lend him some money, which Mulla promptly did. However, after a month, when Mulla accosted his friend for the money, he blatantly refused, stating, "I never took any money from you, you are dreaming". Mulla obviously furious at this back accusation, dragged his friend to the Vazir's court. In the court too the friend maintained that Mulla was lying and challenged Mulla for a proof, which obviously Mulla had none. Finally Mulla looked at the Vazir and said, "Sire, I guess he is saying the truth. If he isn't, assuming that this is the truth has more peace for me than me thinking that I have been wronged." Saying this Mulla left the court with a smile.
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