I posted a few months ago on the topic of truth-telling. (Encouraging bravery in telling the truth) This topic has been on my mind again, due to an incident with our 4 year old. She recently told me that a neighbor girl, who is a few years older, had played with her in a way that bothered her. I could tell she was hesitant to bring it up. What I did not want to do was make it into a huge issue, or impose ideas on her; I wanted to validate her feelings, talk about personal boundaries, and look for a path forward. She insisted she still wanted to play with her, she just didn’t want her friend to behave in that way anymore. I told her that given what she had told me, maybe it’s best if we only have this girl over here where I can directly supervise, or when we are all outside together, to which she agreed. I also told her that we would be calling her friend’s mom, to make her aware of the situation. (Which we did.)
Fast-forward a week post-discussion. Our daughter knocked on her door to invite her outside with us. She came back slumped and sad, and said that she isn’t allowed to play with her anymore. “But why, mom?” I tried to run through a list of reasons her mom might have for not allowing her daughter to play. I was hopeful that it was just a one-time thing. As it turned out, she was no longer allowed to play, period. Later on, my daughter came to me and said, “Mom, I lied. I was just telling a Lie. She didn’t do that stuff.” I was patient. I wanted to see where she was going with this. Not getting any reaction from me, she pushed on earnestly, “Go call her mom again and tell her she can play now because I was just lying!”
She had seen how telling me what happened had prevented her friend from playing with her any longer. She hoped by taking it all back that she could also have her friend back. I could see a Life Lesson at work, and not an easy one. There are few things in life as painful as when our decision to speak up appears to punish us. (Though the pain of not speaking up is one of them.) Sadly, from a young age, well-intentioned parents subtly punish children for speaking up, who consequently learn that sometimes not saying anything means fewer people get hurt. What do I think about that? Absolute bullshit, of course. The trust and honesty from our children is more valuable than your fear/anger/embarrassment as a parent, which is more than heavy enough to destroy both with a glance.
I have tried to explain to my daughter that she is not being punished. Speaking up honestly about things that bother us is worthwhile in and of itself; the truth strengthens us, makes us brave, and sets us free. We can’t control how others will react, and rightly so; telling the truth isn’t to control, it is to release. She felt right about telling me what had bothered her, just as I had to tell her friend’s mom. I told her I wished that I could make it as simple as sparing her friend, but the implications of concealing reality in order to protect someone can sometimes be worse. There is always a bigger picture.
Lessons for when kids speak up:
- Don’t react. It’s not our job to impose shame, guilt, or regret.
- Listen, encourage, and explore the outcomes.
- It takes bravery to speak up, so we must nourish that bravery.
- The power of truth is release, not control. It won’t shield us from consequence.