Friday, March 4, 2011

Kids Need Truth

There are long-standing traditions of deceit in some families.  Kids are told that Santa Claus is real, that there is a Tooth Fairy who buys their teeth, and that there's a big bunny who goes around hiding candy on Easter morning.  Yes, these made-up characters can seem like fun, but what if your children really believe these things?  What will they think when they learn that you have been lying to them?  How will they feel?  Betrayed, hurt, doubtful of other things you've told them?

What a way to dive into a sensitive subject, huh?  But really, whether you tell your kids that Santa Claus is the one who brings them presents on Christmas morning or not, don't you think it's a good idea to consider the consequences of lying to your children?  

Lying is one of the quickest ways to undermine our trust and authority as parents and caregivers.  It is also teaches kids that it's okay to lie in certain situations.  We may believe that it IS okay to lie in certain situations - like when we explain to our boss that we are home sick with the flu when we really just wanted an extra day off.  Or when we make up important-sounding reasons for why we aren't available to play with our kids.  But when our kids start lying back at us, following the examples they've been given, it's easy to preach that lying is wrong.

As parents, shouldn't we want our kids to trust us?  Shouldn't we avoid betraying our children?  Shouldn't we teach them to tell us the truth by example as well as with words?  Let's show our kids how to live honest lives.

One of the best ways to foster close and healthy relationships with our children is to lovingly tell them the truth.  This doesn't mean we need to go into gory details about what happened to Fido, the family dog who was hit by a car.  It doesn't mean we need to tell our preschoolers the latest news headlines about suicide bombings or share with them personal details about our adult relationships.  It does mean we need to take their questions seriously, think of honest, age-appropriate answers, and tell the truth.  If we don't know the answer to a question, we should admit it.  If we don't know how much information to give, we can tell them that we'll think about the question and get back to them with an answer after giving it some thought and research.  If we don't want to answer a question, we should kindly admit that, too.

It is better to say to a child, "I'm not going to tell you about that right now because you are too young," than to make up an answer to a tough question.  Kids will eventually find out when you've told the truth and when you haven't, and your level of honesty will play a big factor in determining their level of honesty when you ask them who broke the lamp in the living room.

Questions for thought/discussion:
How do you do when it comes to being honest with your kids?  Have you ever told your kids something truthful and then wished you hadn't?  If so, how did you handle the situation?  How have you handled a situation in which you believed your kid to be telling a lie?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Kids Need Friends

Pretty much everyone knows that it's important for kids to make friends.  And I think most people will agree that it matters what kinds of friends kids make.  Some friendships are more harmful than helpful.

How do we, as parents and caregivers, help foster healthy friendships in our children?  One way is making sure that we set a good example in our own friendships.  Our kids watch us and often follow our example.  If we have friends who build us up, are positive influences on us, and are there for us in times of trouble, our kids will see the value of good friends.

Another way is making sure that we give our kids opportunities to make healthy friendships beginning when they are young.  If we let our kids spend time with friends who swear, hit, and bully, our kids will learn those behaviors.  If, on the other hand, we seek out parents who share our interests, beliefs, and values, and then provide opportunities for our kids to spend time with theirs, we can hope that healthy friendships will develop.

Unfortunately, we can't always control the kinds of friends our kids make.  Starting with preschool or daycare, we lose much of the control we have over whom our kids chose as friends.  Yes, we still say who comes over to visit and who gets invited to birthday parties.  But if there is a bully or class clown or rebel in our kid's class, we can't keep our kid away from that influence.  If there is a liar or tattle tale or an abused child, our child will be exposed and influenced.

Obviously, we can still teach our children right from wrong at home.  We can talk with our kids about the friends they are making.  We can teach them good friend-making skills (see this article on the importance of friends and friend-making skills by Dr. Michele Borba).  We can invite their friends into our homes so we can observe them and find out how they are impacting our kids - whether positively or negatively.  We can explain to our kids that bullying, lying, hitting, cheating, and disrespectful behavior are wrong.  We can teach by example.

Some of us can even make choices to limit our kids' exposure to bad influences by homeschooling, seeking out high quality daycares and preschools, and enrolling our kids in private schools.  If you have young children and are concerned about how their behavior has changed since they began preschool or grade school, I encourage you to examine your options.  One very legitimate option, especially for families where one parents stays home, is homeschooling.  This book by Lisa Whelchel, So You're Thinking About Homeschooling, describes a variety of homeschooling situations and encourages families that there is no one way to homeschool.

Questions for thought/discussion:
What do you do to promote healthy friendships in your kids' lives?  How do you respond when you suspect your kid is making unhealthy friends?