Thursday, August 19, 2010

Teaching Honesty

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

Teaching Honesty
Many parents demand 100% honesty from their children. This is a tricky proposition when we do not demand it of ourselves. In fact, I doubt that it is possible to be 100% honest. More often than not, honesty is a gray area. If we say, “in a minute...” we know that we are generalizing. We do not really mean sixty seconds. For many children, at their discretion, one minute means just that, sixty seconds. “But mom, you said, ‘in a minute’... it’s been three minutes!” This whiny child’s statement is true, but is it really true? What we are talking about here is the spirit of the law of honesty not the letter of the law of honesty. 
An important part of building trust is picking your words correctly. I find myself saying, “if all goes well...” a lot when talking to children (and most adults). “If all goes well, I will be at your school at 3:00.” “If all goes well, we can go shoe shopping Saturday afternoon.” This teaches people that I am basically an honest person. This keeps me away from the “YOU SAID!” indignation of the mortally wounded child. 
However, on a very subtle note, I do listen carefully for the honesty of life. For example, if I am walking by the bathroom and notice that a damp towel is left on the floor I tend to get involved. “Whose towel?” I call down the hall. “Mine dad, I’ll take care of it in a minute,” an innocent voice responds. I’m not concerned about the “minute” word; I am concerned about my child’s intent to be honest. So, an hour later when I see the towel still drying on the floor my focus changes.
“Ethan (the former innocent) you led me to believe that you were going to take care of the towel.”
 “Yeah!” he mumbles. “I was, I’m going right now.” 
“After you pick up the towel, come and find me, we have to talk about being honest.”
“I was honest, I’m getting the towel right now!”
Calmly I explain, “This isn’t about the towel, this is about your word. I’m not worried about the towel, I’m worried about your word.”
In a few minutes I will, again, explain that I put a lot of faith in his words. That when I get my hug and kiss good night, I really mean the words, “I love you.” when I hear the words, “I love you,” I want to believe them. If a person is willing to deceive me about a nothing towel on the bathroom floor, how can I be sure about really important words such as, “I love you?”
Please note, the towel is an inconvenience. Honesty is a necessity to help your child feel loved and protected. 
As parents we need to watch our words carefully. We need to be careful not to teach dishonest behavior. For example, recently a family got into a heated discussion about answering the phone. The voices got loud. It was clear that the issue was not the phone, but rather trust and honesty issues around the phone. In this particular situation, mom had a sister that she didn’t care for. So, she refused to answer the phone in case her sister called. When the sister did call, the children were instructed to tell her, “oh, mom is out...” or “mom is in the bath.” mom was surprised, when I pointed out, that she was teaching her children to lie.
Relationships are built on small moments, if these moments are dishonest, the relationship cannot be stable.

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