- by Carolyn Bergen
Years ago, the proverbial s*%t hit the fan in our house, and we were all left reeling from what life had thrown at us. I was frantically trying to pick up the pieces, and all the while trying to look like a supportive "put together" mom to my kids. I was driving them to music and basketball and their boys' club, arranging for sleepovers and playdates for them, and endeavouring to make their favourite cookies, brownies for the bake sale at school, etc. etc.
I noticed that we looked normal…almost too normal, given how our lives had been shattered. I thought it was weird that we looked and acted normal, given that we were getting used to a vastly different and new normal.
So, we spent two sessions with a counsellor. (FYI, the family members of therapists don't like going to see therapists. Heavy sigh.)
And I found out something very important during those sessions. What had happened to our family was hard. But what was hardest for my kids was seeing how tired I was. They saw the toll the situation was taking on me, and it bothered them. And worst…because I was tired and stressed and they could tell…they weren't talking to me about what was hurting them to protect me.
Now…all mamas worry about their kids. As a mother, I know I worry more when I don't know what's going on (e.g. when I'm being protected by painful things being hidden). I know that it doesn't make my life easier not to know how my kids are hurting...but how are the children supposed to know that?
(Kids…just so you know…your mama wants to know what's bothering you, even if it hurts her. Cuz mamas like being there for their kids…sometimes their initial reactions get a little hairy as they are adjusting to the news…but mamas want to help)
And so…I learned that if I was going to be a soft place for my kids to land, they had to see that I was healthy enough to land on.
Or, to put it more bluntly…
This isn't about using it as a threat to "make mama happy, or else". This is about recognizing that parents set the tone in the house…how safe the child feels, how relaxed the home is, how free they are to talk. And if parents are overstressed and exhausted, the kids get the vibe…and react accordingly.
So…a few principles to watch for in your parenting, as you determine how busy a schedule you create for your kids and therefore, for yourself and your family:
In this culture of scarcity, we look over the kid sitting next to ours, and our temptation is to think…
We worry about our kids, we want them to do well, and we want to do everything we can to help them do well…so we over schedule them, and exhaust ourselves trying to drive them everywhere that we have decided they need to get to.
When we measure our child's abilities and development against the best and the brightest around us, we are asking/expecting them to measure up to others, and potentially unfairly. Think about it…if every parent expects their child to be in the top 25% of athletes, students, musician etc…then as a culture, we have set up each child to fail, because no one can be at the top of everything.
When we are gung ho on developing our children by over scheduling them in multiple areas, we can give them the message that they aren't "good enough" in who they are. When a child is attending piano lesson in her dance clothes, after having eaten supper in the car on the way over…leaving a few minutes early to get to her French class…that may be unconscious message that Susie isn't good enough when she just plays in the evenings.
Parents talk with each other while the kids are in the pool or on the dance floor…and parents hate to look like they aren't doing everything possible for their kids…and so we can fall into the trap of signing our kids up for the latest too, so as not to appear like we are not good enough. We put our kids in a rat race of lessons/classes etc. so as to demonstrate to the world our sincerity in being the best parents possible.
It looks pretty ugly in black and white, doesn't it?
But don't we all worry, just a little bit, that the next parent over is doing a better job than we are? Don't we all get a little scared that we aren't doing right by our kids? Aren't we all wondering what other people are thinking about how we parent?
We look over at the next parent, and sees that in addition to the hockey team, that parent also enrolled their child in power skating, and maybe even extra classes in summer…and we start to wonder, "Is that what a good hockey parent is supposed to do?"
We worry about damaging our kids, scarring them for life, wounding their little spirits by saying "no":
I remember years ago, enrolling my Junior Tribe Members in gymnastics. The club had a large sign on the wall that said something to the effect of:
"There are thousands and thousands of kids that are part of gymnastics clubs all over Canada. Someday, two or three of them will go to the Olympics. Odds are, then, astronomically--that your child is not one of them. That means that for virtually all children in gymnastics, they are not doing it to perform on the world stage or become wealthy through endorsements…they will be doing it to stay healthy, have fun, develop confidence, improve their fitness, and learn valuable skills of teamwork, cooperation, turn-taking and discipline. We invite you to be active participants in making this an enjoyable experience for your child."
I have remembered that poster often…it took the pressure off me to push my child to be some star-gymnast, and gave me permission just to let him be him. When I took that pressure off myself, I took the pressure off him. And he would jump and tumble completely ungracefully with wild abandon. And it was beautiful.
And when I remembered this, my child could take a guitar lesson, and if he put a good effort in, then mediocre results were ok.
There is a huge personal cost to excelling enough to play hockey in the NHL…and many who have put the effort in have not succeeded after having paid that price. 99.99% of piano players go on to play for pure pleasure, not professionally…and so why would we push for unattainable excellence along with all the inherent frustration and the huge cost of time, energy, tears and drama that this carries?
I want my kids to try hard at things, and I want them to pursue excellence--within the scope of a regular life. I don't want them to sacrifice their mental health or mine while trying hard. I'm not willing to sacrifice them being able to be children--with all that this entails…free play, time to develop relationships with their peers and with their family, and adequate rest for themselves and their chauffeur (aka--me).
Ordinary is beautiful.
Love this line from a blog written by piano teacher, Karen Berger:
Look, the truth is that your kid can't be a black belt in karate and a ski racer and a soccer player and a pianist and an "A" student and a dancer and in the school play. Kids want to try everything, parents panic if they think they are missing the next new thing. You can go broad or you can go deep; that's your choice. But you need to know that learning to play piano takes place in the deep end of the ocean.
Some activities are intense, and to be done well, require time. And not only their time, but ours--sitting at the piano to help count, etc. When intense activities are chosen, then less activities need to be chosen as well. It's not fair to set up our kids to fail by giving them too many challenges…we need to calculate how many balls in the air, and how heavy the balls are, and to know how many balls a particular child can handle, before we can expect them to juggle the demands of their lives well.
That's hard when we groaning and grumbling under the burden of driving our kids to activities. When we are tired and irritable, then it becomes "one more thing" that feels almost too much. Sitting and watching the lesson or the practice becomes a burden…and the child can feel the stress.
When we're stressed and irritable, we are less inclined to enjoy the evening out at the rink, and more inclined to notice mistakes and be critical later. We are more apt to forget that the ref is somebody else's child…and that they have feelings too, and that even when they are doing their best, they are gonna make mistakes.
Do you know what kids want to hear from parents? Do you know what college level athletes most longed to hear from their parents? Brown and Miller did some research…kids don't want to hear how they could have done better, they don't want to hear how the reefing sucked and they got robbed, and even more than being complimented on specific parts of their game…kids long to know their parents enjoyed watching them.
The six words kids most long to hear:
It's hard to delight in anything other than a glass of wine, or a good book, or a bed, or simply some space for peace and quiet when you're overwhelmed and exhausted. To enjoy our kids, we need to ensure that our lives are such that we can be in a position to enjoy watching them.
- by Carolyn Bergen
Sometimes changing it up a little creates new conversation. That can be a good thing.
That happened in our office this week.
I’ve had a picture of the Sequoias in my office for about 11 years now. For years, when we were on the office in the Markham Professional Building, it was in the original office which was tucked inside the office…and it served as the “window” in the room…to provide some greenery in a space that otherwise felt closed in. It was a valued “office opening gift” from someone who understood how big a deal it was for me to start a private practice in my own space. That meant something.
The sequoias were little more than an hour away from where I studied for two and a half years, and the countryside of California is dear to me. It was this image I looked at often for many years as it was above the heads of clients as they sat in counselling sessions with me.
I loved the idea of sequoia trees in the counselling office…as a therapist, I’m a little addicted to beautiful metaphors and this tree represents one for me.
Sequoias are this incredible mix of power and beauty…they are the largest living things on earth. The redwoods might be taller, but in sheer mass the sequoias win because of the incredible diameter of them…you could literally drive a truck through the hollows of a trunk. They are amongst the oldest living things on earth.
Incredible and majestic.
These incredibly large trees have shallow root systems…Sequoias can extend 20-25 stories tall…and their roots…almost totally within 4-5 feet from the surface. That’s amazing for a tree that can weigh 12 million pounds and have been standing for a coupla thousand years.
And so, when we went to visit the Sequoias…most of them have large fences around them, not allowing us to trample or wear down the ground…because as mighty as they are, they are also incredible delicate.
It is said that one of the reasons these incredibly large trees have stood the test of time with these shallow and vulnerable root systems, is that these trees grow near each other. The root systems, which spread out 150-200 feet, and can cover 4 acres…they intertwine with the root systems of neighboring trees…and give each other strength, support and stability through the interconnection with each other.
So, this picture has hung for over a decade, and moved with us to be in our windowless waiting room. I love that image, but it was simple dry mount…and was looking tired and a little worn at the edges.
Time for a change…and a new image…and a new metaphor.
Drum roll please…
Our new waiting room picture:
(From the great folks at Ikea.)
We’ve had fun listening to the amazing response to the picture as clients and therapists alike have walked in to first see the picture…it’s 2 meters wide and so it makes an impression. It’s a natural picture bringing a window like feeling to the entrance…and it’s light and brightens up the windowless waiting area.
Mostly…the automatic responses of people have to do with the apt metaphor this swinging bridge picture is for our office. (Important note here: This shows I’m not the only therapist with this helplessness of a metaphor addiction…several of our crew spontaneously drew parallels without me saying a word. A profound bunch we are. heh.)
So, the consensus is that this picture will hopefully have clients feel understood as they come to therapy. That might sound weird, to be understood by a picture…but clients have often played a song, or read a paragraph, or shown me a book or an image…and wept at how it resonated with their experience; in essence, how it understood them.
Hopefully clients, through this picture, will get that therapy is a journey…a beautiful, crazy, scary, exhilarating, exhausting, unknowning journey.
Most of us therapists have been in therapy along the way, and understand the value in experiencing the fullness of the uncertainty of those moments…understanding the value that is gained in sitting in the discomfort….and also knowing the value of having a travelling companion along the way that has walked this before and can provide a steadying hand of support and confirmation.
- by Carolyn Bergen
I spent some time on Laurie Kilmartin's twitter account today (twitter handle: anylaurie16), which became very popular as she live tweeted her experience of her father's last days in early March this year. Now…to be clear, she's a professional joke writer (for Conan) and a comedienne in her own right, and so her tweets about watching her dad die were both hilarious and profound at a level that few of us are capable…they're incredible--if you've the stomach for black humour.
She had my face confused between simultaneous laughter and tears…she's bright and witty and terribly funny…quite irreverently so. Her subject material, her father's death from cancer…had the tweets be both bittersweet and achingly, hauntingly sad. As a writer, she had an incredible way with 140 characters…
Death is raw and real and agonizing…and somehow she manages to pull off expressing it as raw and real and agonizing…and given that she is a comic that seems to live life on the edge…why would she do anything different when she is mourning her father?
I do find it interesting that she recognizes in her last tweet (which is at the top of the pic, given that tweets add new ones above older ones) that she was preoccupied with her iPhone during the moment of his actual death…which may have been a joke, given her license with the truth to be funny…or maybe not.
What I wonder is…did Laurie Kilmartin use live-tweeting her father's death as a way to preoccupy herself to avoid facing her father's death…or did she use Twitter to help herself authentically deal with the reality? How would we expect a joke writer to deal with most things authentically?
Did she numb herself with social media, creating conversations with thousands of nameless and faceless folks to help herself leave the pain of the room as she sat in the death vigil? Or did she use Twitter to connect with her community of fellow comics at time when she needed her community around her?
I haven't got a foggy clue.
There is no way of knowing what this was about for Laurie Kilmartin…and frankly, it's none of my business what was behind the tweets. In this world of social media…I don't want to know. I haven't earned the right to know her heart. But the musing does cue me to a larger question…does using social media like Twitter and Facebook assist in grieving and mourning, or does it get in the way?
I made this poster a few weeks ago:
I like how this quote encapsulates the difference between comfort and numbing.
Comfort mindfully treasures the present and all that it holds…the sensations, the feelings, the spirit of the moment.
Numbing works to shut off the sensations, cut off from feeling the feelings by burying them under an avalanche of something.
Comfort connects us to our own kindness and self-compassion.
Numbing isn't about kindness or self compassion…it's about working to feel nothing
Comfort is part of connecting ourselves meaningfully, gently, and thoughtfully to the world…with a hug, a glass of wine with a friend, or an episode of a television show that may get discussed tomorrow at coffee break.
Numbing is about disconnecting from others and oneself…it's about drinking to take the edge is off, or even off the edge completely. It's about watching an entire season of a series on Netflix in your pyjamas in the dark, not answering the phone when it rings.
Social media can connect us with those that are loving and caring for us. It can make connections that might otherwise be impossible because of scale or access.
Social media can be used to leave the room even while one's body is sitting bedside. It can be a way to escape or deny painful realities of the moment by slipping into a world where pain isn't
- by Carolyn Bergen
We belong to each other. We have better immunity, improved cardiovascular heath, less anxiety, lower rates of depression…simply, we do better when we live in community.
We do better when we give each other hugs, exchange handshakes, tell each other our stories, lean on each other for support, celebrate and mourn together.
We all do better when we travel in groups.
This adorably cute cartoon says it all:
- by Carolyn Bergen
Selfies are a relatively recent development, so let me let Oxford tell you:
Ahhh…so you're likely not a "Millennial" if you're asking that question. No problem. I'll explain
A Millennial is a person born between 1982-2004. Millennials understand that in today's onslaught of endless electronic information where that info is evaluated upon within a few seconds, it is often less about "character" and more about "branding".
While Baby Boomers and Gen X folks think of Millennials as "narcissistic and self obsessed", millennials are actually adapting to the current cultural values which we all get sucked into, like it of not. Psychology Today says, "Millennials have no choice but to invest in and develop an online presence. An effective web profile conveys important information about the user's skills, credibility, and potential."
To an extent, they are a natural adaptation to a changing culture. And sometimes, they are even a little fun…my mom sent me a selfie of herself at her first Jet's game this season…what a hoot! And…just to prove I have a sense of humour on the topic:
But, to be honest, even millennials have noticed some disturbing trends.
Selfies also can serve the purpose of:
Yep. I mean, posting a selfie of yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China so that your relatives and friends can see you on your travels…well, that's just necessary in today's world so that your mother doesn't cry on the phone the next time you call. These people care about you and they want to see you having incredible experiences because you matter to them.
But the idea of selfless has turned into "How can I create a beautiful me online to impress the socks off others?" or "How beautiful can I make a selfie so that everyone will know how gorgeous I am?" And guess what?
There's an app for that.
Skinneepix takes off 5-15 pounds off your selfie to make you look more slender. The developers insist that it is not to be a fat shaming tool, and as entertainment and inspiration…I'm sorry, but I'm just not buying it.
Selfie's in this culture are a huge opportunity for folks to feel lousy about themselves, or as some sort of reaction to how lousy they feel about themselves. An app like Skinneepix says it is designed to help people feel better about who they are if they are defining themselves by how their selfie looks.
In truth, when people use Skinneepix, what they are really telling themselves is that they think they are unacceptably pudgy, and need to resort to being inauthentically themselves to be attractive online.
And that, dear people, is frankly revolting to me. Even folks in the average range sees themselves as unacceptably fat. That is not OK.
Rader Programs, an eating disorder program in the United States has a fantastic page about how our culture influences body image of people (we used to say women, but we know now that men are also powerfully affected).
A few points it makes:
Well, the answer is simple, but so not easy.
It's becoming grounded in what's real.
- by Carolyn Bergen
A few weeks ago, I was leading The Daring Way ™ workshop over the weekend. One of the participants recommended the video Falling Floyd…an animated movie that essentially depicts what it is like to long for connection…feel rejected, and then what it is like to carry the shame gremlins that create pain and destruction.
It's cute…and simultaneously painful as it is such an apt metaphor for what we have all experienced in one way or another.
- by Carolyn Bergen
Yesterday was one of those days...chaotically full.
It was the last "Advanced Communication Skills" class with my class of Occupational Therapy students and I figger they don't get much fun in their lives…actually, they really don't get any time at all to have fun…so as a closing activity we played this game called "Bite the Bag" where we all take a turn leaning over to grab a paper bag off the floor with our teeth, with nothing but your feet allowed to touch the ground.
When you've "bit the bag", you rip off the part of the bag where your teeth touched...the bag gets gradually shorter and the game gets harder. We use it as a metaphor for therapy...but have a whole lotta laughs in the process. For a bunch of stressed out Master's students, playing a stupid party game first thing in the morning is pretty darn fun…no alcohol required.
We debriefed about their experience in learning counselling skills...profound and rewarding for me as I heard of incredibly professional and personal growth...a great, holy fun to watch students recognize and celebrate how school changes them and their relationships, and their ability to be effective future clinicians. I get to teach the good stuff!
Then off to the office to have a fun lunch meeting with Melanie, my office manager--good times with good work getting done--and dashing home for some productive business calls. Then off to spend the rest of the day with a Junior Tribe Member driving he and his good buddy to an out of town sporting event...with a stop for a casual supper along the way.
Very full, and very fun...if folks ask me about my day they might see to to be simply full of good richness.
But you wouldn't have seen:
-that the tea time I had with friends at a coffee shop while we were waiting for that JTM's game to start was to tearfully listen--their hearts are breaking over a family crisis. They entrusted me to hold their pain yesterday
-that I heard news that a good friend's mother passed away
-that I heard the heartbreak of another friend in tears over the news of this death...realizing her parents are not far off from this end of life stage
-my conversation with one of our therapists who is dealing with a death in her family...making arrangements to have her sessions handled...and hearing her tears as she prepares to travel go say "good-bye"
-me checking to make sure that the flowers were successfully sent to the funeral for my out-of-town aunt's funeral--I hadn't seen her in years, but her death hits close to home for those I care about
- by Carolyn Bergen
Let's start off with saying that this is my first DIY blog post…I've written over 700 posts and not one of them is a Do It Yourself. But I pulled off a project recently...I mentioned this project recently at a couple of workshops and presentations I led to illustrate a point, people asked if they could steal my idea for their Junior Tribe Members (JTM).
No stealing required. Take this idea and run with it in a way that is yours.
But first my point:
There are moments (or weeks or months) where we all struggle to find our own worth and value.
When our children grow into young adults…they can struggle with wondering if they are valued and valuable, and well…that's when a kid can play these strange games that are a lot of effort, and don't really work anyways…like:
A young person can lose sight of their value and worth, and lose sight of guiding values and principles in the hustle for worthiness. It's not just young adults that struggle with that.
Yeah, so you get that, too.
So often other people see us in a more positive light than we see ourselves…I think the world would be a different place if we could see ourselves the way those who love us see us. Too often, the only time we get to hear how others see a person is at their funeral…when it is too late.
Sooo sad that there isn't a way for our children to hear and know and see and remember their own value through the lives of others. Hmmmm...
I think of ceremonies that transition a child into adulthood as sort of a plumb line event…something that can serve as a life long reference point.
But…I'm not Jewish, so a bar mitzvah for my JTM's wasn't an option. My own faith tradition doesn't have a ritual to transition a child into adulthood…so I thought I would create a childhood-into-adulthood event.
But…I'm an introvert…and creating a big splashy party with new rituals and ceremonies with food and celebration with invitations and hosting had me begin to hyperventilate and get itchy.
I was going to have to do something that fit for us…I created a Plumb Line Book.
Here's the DIY part:
1. Start about 3 months before your JTM's 18th birthday (or whatever occasion you choose to do this for…16, high school grad, college grad, 21)
2. Email 20-30 people who have been influential in your own JTM's life. Teachers, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, coaches, mentors, family friends, pastor/rabbi/iman, siblings--people who know and love your child. Invite them to join in the opportunity to usher your child into adulthood by emailing you a paragraph about:
3. Collect pictures electronically of the years gone by…if you have pictures only with old fashioned prints developed from negatives, just take pictures of those pictures with your phone. The important thing here is to git'er done, not be overly tech-y about it. It doesn't have to be perfect…in fact, it's better if it's real…
4. Find a coupon for an online self publishing site…part of the fun is to get the best coupon possible. It's always more fun to do a project when you are also saving money. I used Picaboo this time, but have used Photobin in the past--there are other sites that work as well.
5. Cut and paste the submissions from family and friends into the pages of the book on the website. Keep it real, not perfect. Drag and drop your photos into the spaces provided. Have a couple of pages filled with photos…you are celebrating the past in such a way as to make a clear path forward. This takes a bit of time, but you are making lasting memories, people!
Part of a coach's note:
Part of an uncle's note:
Another note, this one from a pastor:
The baby picture page:
Wasn't he adorable?!
The back cover:
6. Push "pay/print/send" in time to get the finished product for the occasion. It won't be perfect, and you could tweak/add/change photos until a year from next Tuesday…Just. Finish. It.
7. Order a second copy for yourself…it's a powerful thing to see and remember how others see your child. Truly. And one day, your JTM will not live at home and this will be a comfort. I plan to sleep with my copy once he goes off to college.
8. Create an event to present the completed book. This is important. The giving of it is a celebration of the JTM, a marking of time, and a send-off into the future. It doesn't need to be fancy or huge, but it does need to be a thing. Our thing is a lunch date where the child misses school to celebrate their birthday--just the two of us--at the restaurant of his choice. Since preschool. Without fail. It's our thing.
When you present the book, give a little prepared speech about how you much you love and cherish your JTM…and how you want your JTM to be reminded about who s/he is on days when it might be hard to remember.
9. Practice gratitude…it's a big deal that a buncha busy folks with full lives troubled themselves to invest in your kid. Let them know of the impact.
After our lunch date, my JTM took his into school that afternoon. I asked what people said when they saw it. He had one response. "The other kids wished their parents would do one for them".
Everyone likes to be celebrated. Everyone likes to know they are valued and appreciated for their uniqueness. Everyone likes to be fussed over. Everyone likes to know their lives have meaning for others.
Why would we wait for someone to be dead before we do this?
My JTM finally cleaned up his room this week and rearranged his stuff. There is only one book prominently displayed on the shelf above his desk…the book that will serve to centre him to his values for years to come. The book that will help him to align himself with his values. The book that celebrates him…because he is so loved by so many.
And on days when he forgets how much he is loved…he will have the book to remind him.
- by Carolyn Bergen
Well…if that makes you a bad parent, then I'm a bad parent, she's a bad parent, he's a bad parent--we're all bad parents if measured by our kids lying.
In fact, if kids are being dishonest, it's a sign that they are growing in intelligence, and experimenting with the truth, and with consequences, and being creative. It's a normal part of childhood development!
Lying is part of normal growth and development. In fact, there are indications that lying in children can be an indicator of social intelligence.
In young children, lying is seen as a way to avoid upsetting adults and have them be angry at you. Children don't want to be punished. It turns out that the smartest kids are the ones who lie. It is a recognition that the other has different thoughts than your own--when children lie, it's a sign they have figured out that parents are not mind readers. It isn't malicious, it is strategic.
In preschoolers, dishonesty can be part of imagination, how one wishes it would be. Children might have an imaginary friend, and be able to tell you all about her. And then it's much easier to say the imaginary friend wet the bed than to acknowledge responsibility. School aged children will often lie when they feel in over their heads in a situation, or they fear anger from an adult.
Older children may lie for a variety of reasons. They may do it to appear a certain way to their peers, or to their parents, or to demonstrate that they are "good enough", or to gain attention.
Children may lie because they are covering up being bullied at school, or because they are worried their parents are too fragile to handle a truth, or because they are starting to choose to not disclose pieces of their story as part of normal developmental maturation (e.g. lying about a first boyfriend or school yard kiss) or because of anxiety, or because they fear telling the truth. And yes, often kids will lie because "it's worth it".
Understand the developmental age, and the purpose that lying serves. Small children need to learn through experience that lying is wrong…they aren't born into this world knowing that. Teens, as they work to develop their own space, can learn to develop their own boundaries by declaring them, rather than lying.
It is also important to understand the underlying reasons why the lying is occurring. Most parents assume that children lie to do what is self serving and then avoid punishment (e.g. deny eating the cookies before dinner because he wanted to enjoy them and didn't want to be punished).
There may be other reasons for the dishonesty, and it can be important to create a safe space (with the help of a teacher/mentor/counsellor if necessary) to know why a child is lying. Knowing the underlying reason for lying may profoundly change the strategy to address the lying.
The child may be stealing money to pay off a school yard bully.
All children need to understand the value of honesty in building trust in relationships, and have them experience how relationships with integrity actually work more effectively in a family. If a child can understand that honesty builds trust, and trust increases self respect and the respect of parents which can result in more freedoms then lying becomes not "worth it" anymore.
In a situation where the child lied because they thought it was worth it, help them see that it actually isn't. When there is a lie in a relationship that is intended to function with trust and love, the trust is broken, and then circumstances need to change. So…if the child said there was no booze at the party, and you find out from another mother that there was…trust has been broken…and so the child may have limitations on whose house he can go hang out at, or you may decide you need to call the parents where he is going to check out the circumstances ahead of time, or you may pick him up at a earlier time in the evening rather than allowing him to get home with friends--for a time, as trust is rebuilt. Have conversations about what he can do to rebuild trust--and give him a chance to gradually do so…so that it pays off to be honest.
Usually not maliciously, no. But yes, think about it…how often have your children witness you be dishonest even just today? Y'know… "I'll be happy to bring cookies to the bake sale" on the phone and then immediately grumble about it on hanging up. And tell your kids, "I'd love to play yet another game of 'go fish'" through gritted teeth and barely veiled annoyance. Tell your friend you love her new sweater when she asks, and they see you roll your eyes when she turns her back. Complain to your child that they "never" clean up their room…really, is that honest, or convenient hyperbole? Perhaps even when we tell them that the Easter bunny is real, and we work to be convincing of it, and they cotton on the fact that we are telling stories. Kids watch us, and learn that dishonesty is a socially acceptable part of life.
Be the example of honesty. Don't lie about smoking to your spouse after you've been in the back yard having some puffs…your kids notice and they will do what you do, rather than do what you say.
Have the child understand the difference between a "white lie" (i.e. a socially acceptable lie) and a real lie. I recall a situation where a little family friend opened up a gift on his birthday and was honest when he said, "This is not a present. This is clothes." His parents were horrified because he told the truth…they wanted him to lie in a socially acceptable way--to be grateful for a gift he wasn't especially fond of. Now…how confusing is that for a child!
Another way we help children lie is to set the kids up to lie. When you see the child with sprinkles on his face and the empty container, you can put the kid under a test and ask (see below for the terribly cute response) or notice, "I see sprinkles on our face and a half empty container. Tell me about that."
Let me assure you that I have spoken to many adults in marriages that come to counselling because when they are "put on the spot" about a mistake they have made, they go for "short term gain" and give the convenient answer rather than the truth.
If you notice cigarettes in your teen's car, asking if they smoke is a test, asking them when they started smoking starts the conversation. Don't back your kids into a corner where they make a snap decision and then have to continue to defend a position they adopted in a panic. And allow the child to change their story to a truthful one with dignity. For example: "You say that you haven't been smoking. I saw cigarettes in the car you drive. I'm going to go put the laundry in, give you a few minutes to take some deep breaths, and give you a do-over. We'll restart this conversation, and I'll give you a chance to come clean so that we can keep the trust we've developed."
Notice stories of honesty in the news and talk about them over the dinner table. Remind your child (and yourself) before a discussion that honesty is valued in your household. Let the child know the effect of honesty vs lying on you and how you feel in a relationship. Let your child know how you honour their courage when they are brave enough to be honest when it is hard.
Find ways of honouring a painful honesty so that they don't regret their choice of honest--in the moment it can be difficult to notice their honesty about a mistake, but find ways of looking at the big picture to notice their actions in a way that. For example: "It must have been hard for you to admit to me just now that you broke that window. That took a lot of courage to tell me you were throwing the ball around the house even though you know you weren't supposed to. I'm mad about your disobeying, but also really proud that you owned your mistake. We will have to talk about what happens with the broken window, for sure--cuz you blew it and we both know it. But part of how I'm going to remember this story is how you were brave enough to be honest with me."
Can you imagine what it would be like for a child to hear that? How that would make it that much safer to be honest the next time and not lie about things…when potentially, the stakes are much higher?
Ensure that you are addressing the behaviour of lying--which is something that child can actively work on with you, rather than labelling the child as "a liar"--which pigeonholes the child and may "sentence" the child to that identity, making it almost impossible to change the behaviour.
- by Carolyn Bergen
This is so not my first day on earth, but I have to admit that this was a few minutes well spent to remind myself of what it means to live on this earth:
Enjoy your day…and have a corn dog if the spirit moves you--and it just might!
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