If your kid is old enough to form complete sentences, the chances are that you’ve been in a situation where their honesty crossed the line over into rudeness. You know, those times when their acute observations make your cheeks burn and incite you to make a break for the nearest exit.
Need examples? It goes something like this:
“Ew! This food is yucky!” while you are dinner guests in someone else’s home.
“Look, Mom! Her belly is huge – is she having a baby?” while pointing and within earshot of a stranger at the grocery store.
“Are you a boy or a girl? I can’t tell because you have a mustache AND a ponytail,” directed to the gas station attendant.
This is not the exhaustive list of embarrassing things my children have said in my presence, but they are certainly soundbites I won’t soon forget. And while my reflex in those moments is to beg my children to take it back and change their answer, the truth is that honesty is a virtue I value above most – if not all – other virtues.
Honesty is one of the most important things we can teach our children. It has to start young. If in their youth, we haven’t impressed upon them the value of honesty, it will certainly not be an easy lesson to teach when they are older. So my daughter spit out our host’s “yucky” food. At least she’s honest. BUT she was also rude.
It begs the question, how do we elevate honesty while also being careful to not cross the line into rudeness? To maintain an emphasis on the importance of honesty, we tell our children that it’s okay if they think the food is yucky or mistake someone for being pregnant. However, some things are better left unsaid or spoken in the privacy of our home later. Once you say it, it’s out there. You cannot get those words back. The time tested phrase, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” gets played on repeat around our house.
We relate it back to a time when their feelings were hurt by someone’s careless words. Words carry heavy weight and we need to choose them wisely. We try and encourage slooooowing down and thinking before they open their mouths (a difficult task for a child, that’s for sure, but not impossible!). We ask these questions: Does what you say build up or tear down? Have you given any thought to what you want to say before you say it?
On the opposite end, lying is something that comes all too easily for all of us. Even as an adult, I find myself bending the truth to suit my purposes. Since I personally know the struggle to keep honesty at the center of my words and relationships, it’s a good reminder to have patience with my children as they are growing in their ability to choose to be truthful, especially if honesty comes at their expense.
Honesty can be reinforced or undermined by our actions as parents. Of course, flat out lying to them or in front of them is a bad idea. There are sneakier ways, though, that dishonesty can sabotage our best efforts to raise honest children. White lies or fibs don’t get the bad rep they deserve. “Tell them I’m not here” when the phone rings. “We already have radiant barrier” to get the salesman off your front porch. “Oh, yes, I LOVE it!” about the gift you received that you’re already wondering to whom you can re-gift. While these seemingly harmless fibs certainly don’t seem so dangerous, we are teaching our children that it’s okay to say whatever accomplishes the outcome we hope to achieve regardless of whether there is any truth to our words. When the roles are reversed and my child is using this methodology on me, it’s unacceptable. So I should hold myself to the same standard.
Learning to communicate with honesty while also holding your audience’s feelings in high regard is a challenge. Practice makes perfect and hopefully with time, we’ll all have fewer tense moments while standing with our children in the check out line.