Here is one habit that’ll hopefully help you raise honest kids, and it probably isn’t something you’ve thought of!
My daughters’ comment really shook me up.
The kids asked if they could have some candy or treat or Easter chocolate or something sugary and the answer I gave was this: “Umm… (distractedly putting my keys in my purse) maybe.”
“Uhh…” my daughter told her brother, “Maybe really just means no.”
I chuckled a bit at first, because, you know, maybe does mean no a lot of the time.
But then I got to thinking… that’s actually dumb. Because maybe does NOT mean no. Maybe means maybe. And immediately I remembered a quote I’d read in a book somewhere. For the life of me I can’t remember which book, but it went something like this.
“A building block of honesty is direct communication that is neither vague nor confusing.”
So let’s dive into the surprising habit that helps raise honest kids…
If you want your child to value honesty and be honest, they need to know what it looks like. Let’s look at a few definitions just for fun, shall we?
Direct (adj): straightforward, frank, candid
Vague (adj): not clear or definite in thought, understanding, or expression
It’s not that being vague is lying. It isn’t that we’re vague to deceive. It’s this: frequent vague language stops our children from understanding what honesty looks like. We’re just “saying something” to give a quick answer to our kids.
We don’t feel like taking the time to think out an answer.
We don’t think they’ll get our reason for saying no.
We think things are above their heads.
We just don’t want to deal with their High Emotions.
Let’s Take An Honest Look At How To Raise Honest Kids…
Here are some scenarios that are not exactly the same as a parent/child relationship, but that communicate my point: directness is nearly always preferable to vagueness.
Wife: Honey, are you cheating on me?
Person to Doctor: Is this procedure life-threatning?
Doctor: We’ll see.
Person to Financial Advisor: What percentage will you take from my earnings?
Financial Advisor: Ask me again later.
I think you get my point.
Be Honest: Don’t Be Vague To Put Off Discomfort
The biggest reason we are vague with our kids is because we don’t want them to throw a fit when we tell them No.
But they’re going to eventually get told no and probably throw the fit anyway so being vague and confusing doesn’t put off the drama.
In fact, being vague means they talk nonstop repeatedly about what they want until we give them an answer that is concrete.
As I’ve learned in my Language of Listening™ training… kids will continue to communicate until they feel heard.
I totally get it… it takes some chutzpah to just say no. It’s why they created an entire campaign around this in the 80’s. Or was it the 90’s? If the answer is no, just say no.
Giving a vague answer like “maybe” when you really mean no contributes to the idea that truth is something you can’t quite put your finger on.
Don’t Entrap Your Kids: Just Be Direct
Yesterday my mother found my son’s brand new birthday truck, suspiciously, with a broken wheel. In a bush. The birthday boy had been in school so we knew it was one of his brothers who had broken it. We had a hunch which one.
So I took the red broken truck to the son, whom I suspected, was the guilty party.
“The wheel on this truck broke off.” (no entrapment, straight facts)
My son replied, “Who would do something like that?“
I thought that was a clever (and vague) answer, yet I persisted. “Baby, you can tell me the truth.” (aka, I’m not going to explode)
A big sigh then… “Okay, mommy, I did it.”
“Okay, son, let’s sit down and figure out how you can earn money to buy him a new one.”
If you ask – in a menacing voice – whether they did something you already know they did… you are drastically increasing the chances they’ll dig their heels in. Now their dignity is at stake. Now, no matter what you say, they have to hold to their story.
And the more you push the worse it gets.
Don’t explode, keep your cool, stick to the facts, and don’t ask questions you already know the answer to.
If you want to raise honest kids, act honestly with them!
Dig Deep When Kids Lie, Don’t Just Punish And Move On
Kids don’t usually lie because it’s fun. They usually lie for one of the following reasons:
- They don’t want to disappoint you
- They don’t want to get in trouble
- They don’t want you to yell, scream,or lecture them
- They don’t want to admit something they did that they know is against your rules, limits, or values because they know it was wrong
Know there’s a *reason* your child has lied and go towards that. Of course, you don’t want to leave lying unaddressed, but by focusing on the lie and then blowing it up into a huge thing you are actually giving power to lying.
Instead, dig a little bit.
Here’s a sample scenario based off a situation that really happened in our home.
I find empty candy wrappers behind my son’s chair even though he’d told me he had not eaten candy.
“You told me you had not eaten candy, but I see that you have.”
He replies, “I know I told a story, but I just really wanted it!”
“Ahh, so you thought I wouldn’t give you any candy?” I say.
“Yes, because you don’t!” my son says back.
“Well,” I say, “there must be something we can do. I’m not okay with you lying to me or eating an entire bag of candy. But I don’t mind if you have a piece or two.”
“Okay, mom, next time I will ask you and maybe I can have one or two pieces at a time.”
I reply to him, “I’m okay with that.”
Maybe there’s a consequence in your home, maybe there isn’t, but whatever you do, dig past the lie itself and get to the bottom of it.
Practice Directness In Your Talk
We can actually be more direct than we think.
It may seem abrupt to us adults, but kids find it refreshing. In fact, children hate to feel like they’re being left in the dark, wondering what you actually mean.
Children like to know where they stand on things.
Here are some examples of direct communication with kids.
- “The reason you have to clean up your room is because I don’t like a mess and I want you to learn responsibility.”
- “I’m not giving you a treat at the store this time because you’ve had too much junk food lately and it’s not healthy.”
- “You can’t come out of your bedroom until 6:30 am because I need alone time to start the day well.”
- “I know you want to go to your friend’s house to spend the night, but I don’t allow sleepovers when I don’t know a child’s parents very well.”
You don’t always need to explain yourself about every little thing, but when you do, be direct.
If you want kids to value honesty, speak candidly.
If you want kids to tell you the truth, stop exploding.
If you want your children to take you at your word… use direct words.