Yesterday I found scribbles all over a notebook I use for work. I noticed my 3 year old daughter sitting at my desk earlier in the day. I showed her the notebook and asked, “did you do that?” Here’s how the conversation went…

Alice: Well…. Um. No…
Me: You didn’t? Who did it then?
Alice: Um… Uncle Rick.
Me: Uncle Rick did that?
Alice: Yes it was uncle Rick.
Me: (Admiring the scribbles). I like how he kept the scribbles on the same line like that…
Alice: (Eyes lighting up.)
Me: Who did that?
Alice: I did, smiling proudly.

As a parent, I want to teach my kids the value of honesty. I’m not alone. Quoting research from Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, “for two decades, parents have rated ‘honesty’ as the trait they most want in their children.”

Which is ironic since we parents teach our kids to lie.

Children lie to avoid punishment. Alice didn’t want to get in trouble for scribbling in mom’s notebook. My little people-pleaser decided it would be okay to tell me the truth once she “got” that I wouldn’t be mad, that, in fact, I might be pleased.

How often, like Alice, do you lie to avoid conflict?

Maybe you say yes to something you would really rather not do?
Maybe you keep your opinions to yourself if they don’t match the party line?
Maybe you create an entire persona so that other people will like, admire or respect you?
Or maybe you just tell a little white lie because you think it’s what that person wants to hear?

The research is clear, children lie to avoid punishment. But adults do it too. The difference is that we adults should know better.

Developmentally small children are too young to understand that lying also disconnects. It prevents intimacy, creates distance, prevents trust…

As adults we’re supposed to “get” this. But we still lie to avoid the punishment of social conflict, to avoid feeling judged or criticized or vulnerable in any way.

We do this at the cost of true intimacy. And we teach our kids a dangerous trade off. We teach them to sacrifice their own authenticity for the false sense of safety that comes from avoiding conflict.

Children tell the truth when they learn the value of honesty. Parents teach the value of honesty by telling the truth.

Saying no when you mean it. Speaking up when it’s important to you. Being yourself, no apologies. Letting other people be responsible for their own feelings.

And if you get a negative response? You teach your kid that the sun still rises.

Psst: If this all seems easier said than done,  check out my latest telecourse. Starts November 30th!

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  1. Amy, I love this story. And I love the authentic way you talk about stepping into the bravery of truth-telling. Because it isn’t always a picnic. There is chaos and there is Truth. I find that each time I choose not to step into the Truth I bury myself in another layer of chaos. Sometimes it’s a thin veneer of fog. You are right, Truth sometimes involves conflict. But the feeling on the other side of that hard won battle is crystal clarity.

    This post is so gentle and strong. Thank you.

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