Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (April 5th, 2018)
I remember before having my son, my husband and I would have a lot of talks about raising children. We wanted to make sure we were on the same page about our values, parenting styles and ways of communication with our children. Some of the things we talked about then didn’t end up happening at all (my requirement was that our child should never leave the table before all the adults had finished eating. It didn’t take too long for me to realize that it’d take a lot more training and self-control for our child to be able to do that) but some have remained consistent. One thing that I was quite insistent on was about telling our son the truth, all the time. It is my view that being truthful, whether to a child or an adult, is a form of respect to that person and also helps establish trust in the relationship.
So because of those views, my husband and I had early on decided not to tell our son about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and make up stories about them. We know that many families choose to do so for a variety of reasons, many of them good reasons, but we decided that we wouldn’t. I didn’t want to have my child one day find out that Santa and the Tooth Fairy aren’t real and for him to question what else I told him wasn’t real. So far, telling him the truth about those two characters hasn’t been hard but other things have been harder.
It was much harder to tell him why children in the next room at the medical clinic are crying and how he would have to go inside that room soon. And harder to tell him why I have to leave him in a classroom unaccompanied when he’s crying and wanting me to stay. And it was much harder to tell him that I had to go to work and couldn’t spend the day with him when he was crying and holding me at the door.
Perhaps it would have been easier to say that I needed to “go to the toilet and will be back soon” and hope that he has no concept of time. Or to slip out when he’s not looking so he doesn’t cry. But even though he’s probably still too young to know the difference, I think it creates a sense of insecurity and distrust when we lie to them.
I think one of the hardest times to be ‘honest’ is when setting boundaries. “You can only play for 5 more minutes” but with a little bit of a tantrum, the five minutes becomes ten and then fifteen and so on. Or “no, you can’t have that toy” but after a couple of convincing arguments, the purchased toy ends up in your child’s hands. Being consistent is the hardest thing but if we go back on what we say, then what value do we have in our word? So I made the decision to tell the truth, to be best of my ability, even when it seems like it’s the harder thing to do. I want my child to know that I say what I mean and I mean what I say.
And what I’ve realized is that it takes practice to tell the truth. I’ve needed to get used to explaining things to my son and to figure out how best to tell him the truth in a way that he can developmentally understand. It may be harder now but I’ve already seen the benefits of doing it and I know I will continue to do so.
So when you’re child asks you a question next – think again: how can I honestly tell the truth?