Honesty, Trust and truth in families

Children learn what and who to trust very early in their lives and this is often based on what they see and feel more than what they hear. For example, we might tell them many times over we are fine, but they can feel we are sad, they see the bloodshot eyes and they notice our distracted or irritated movements and they know we are not being honest. One of those clues on their own would have been enough to get noticed, but all three together means they really cannot trust the words that come out of our mouth! If we look at how we have valued honesty in our homes, has it been one of our foundational pillars? Why are we not being more honest?

Perhaps we might have told a ‘little white lie’ under the guise of trying to protect them or thinking ‘we knew best for the children’.

When we tell ‘a little white lie’ or avoid honesty with children, what can happen is the child learns to mistrust the communication they are getting from their body, because the person who is supposed to be honest with them, and who they are supposed to trust ‘the most’ starts to tell them they are wrong, and that they are not feeling what they are feeling. We may not be doing it on purpose, but in our need to keep the peace, to claim a bit of space for ourselves or to perhaps just end the conversation, we tell them whatever we believe will put their concerns to rest. Yet, they can feel a stress, unease or an anxiety and can start to doubt their own inner radar because their body is communicating to them that what they are feeling is not matching what they are hearing. We are, in effect, telling them by our behaviour that lying is acceptable, it is normal, it is part of growing up.

What is our role as parents?

I am sure we can all agree it is not to teach them that lying is normal. As much as we want children to trust us as parents, our job is to share with them the importance of trusting their own inner radar, because that is what gives them the inner knowing for making sound decisions when we are not around. That is what will support them to know when they are being honest and truthful with themselves and feel that sense in others.

We want to equip children to be able to navigate life without us.

We all feel everything but unless this has been confirmed with us from young, we may need to remind ourselves of this fact first, check in with how honest we are being, so we can reflect it and confirm it in children. Let’s go back to that example of being upset.

We have had a row and we are upset but say we are fine. The child knows we are upset but they learn to ignore that, as we are insisting that we are fine. The honesty here is that we are lying to the child because we perhaps don’t feel ready to talk about it, but they know we are lying. This creates an unease in the body that they have trouble reconciling – they know us, we are transparent to them, they can feel the sadness, anger, frustration, but the words they are hearing from us are telling them they are wrong. Again, allowing that honesty from ourselves, we may not want to talk to them about why we are upset, it may well be inappropriate, but that may also be a skill that they need to learn. Perhaps we could say - “yes, I am upset but I am not keen to talk about it at the moment or I’m not ready to talk about it, so could you give me some time to understand how I am feeling first?” Then they get confirmed in their knowing that what they were feeling was right. They also learn to respect that another may not be ready to talk in that moment, even though they want to know or want to help. We might even go back to them later and say, “thank you for noticing that I was upset, it really helped me see that I could get some help for myself, and I have been able to talk to a counsellor or a friend”.

This is a very good skill for them to learn for school as well. Sometimes people (their friend or teacher) need space, and they may well be sensing more than the other person is ready to talk about.

Do we feel confident having conversations like that? Being that open and potentially letting people see we feel vulnerable? Children and young adults are far more resilient than we give them credit for and if they understand the truth of what is going on, they can build the skills to deal with most situations. If we are told what we are feeling is wrong, we get confused about why we are feeling what we are clearly feeling. It is easy to see how this can lead to unease, self-doubt, worry, low self-esteem, stress and anxiety.

Being more honest is a win-win situation

As children mature into young adults, they may now want us to trust them as they start to go out and socialise, so it is clear this life skill is a two-way process. They, like us, may need to process what happens at school or in a relationship before they discuss it with us – if ever!! However, us noticing that something is up, is a great opportunity for us to express that we have noticed that they are perhaps ‘not themselves’ and to ask if they feel they have the resources they need to deal with what they are feeling.

Trust should never be something we feel we have to build, rather, the 'knowing' of what being settled feels like in our body means we innately know if what someone else is saying is true or not. Our whole body breaths freely.

Honesty, trust and truth in families starts with us.


Further reading

The basics of communication

Breaking the struggle with parenting

Lockdown need not drive us crazy

Image by Anh Tuan To on Unsplash