I have two boys. The oldest is very inquisitive, he loves to learn and seeks answers. My youngest learns from exploration: exploring in dirt, food, things he should not, and even his faith. I have been asked some questions that make me laugh so hard I’m forced to look away for a moment, questions that I don’t have the answers to so I seek out knowledge from others. questions we can both learn from, and questions that hurt heart to hear.
I am proud that my children will come to me with questions. With Amazon’s “Alexa” in almost every room and the technology they have access to, they still come to me. Sometimes it’s a brief interaction, others include experiments and the ones where we connect the most are bittersweet. It’s in answering those questions that I hold my children a little closer, we snuggle, I listen, I speak the truth, and we learn.
As my children grow up, the depth of their questions becomes more challenging. The questions they ask provide insight into their personalities, belief systems, and mindsets. It is my belief as a parent that the best thing we can do for our kids is to accept who they are. When they ask questions I am cautious not to shame them for asking. I try to instill my beliefs, morals, and values while encouraging their own. Above all, I always speak truth to my kids. How can I raise my children to be honest and truthful if I do not model the same?
As difficult as it might be I tell my children what is really going on. I provide them with the answers they seek and I teach them the value of speaking truth in relationships so that they develop trust. When I speak truth to my children I am teaching resilience, I model that sometimes life is tough, we may hurt, but we communicate, we process, we feel, we cope, and we move forward.
In 2016, my brother completed suicide. My oldest was almost 5 years old at the time. We had just arrived in Georgia the night prior so we were states away from any support. I was an emotional mess. My husband and I had a discussion about telling the kids and we both knew the truth must be said. We sat with our two children, holding them ever so close, and communicated the most difficult words I have ever said: “Uncle Kevin has died.” We received questions about death and what happens and we responded with age-appropriate explanations. My heart shattered into a million pieces when I said, “Uncle Kevin felt very sad. The only way he thought he could ever feel happy again was to be in heaven,” and my almost 5-year-old got it. He understood that it was not because of him, or anyone else. In fact, his response was “Was he sad because nobody was helping him with the house?” He recognized my brother was more alone. In those moments I had a choice. I could lie or mislead or I could speak truth to my children. The reality is, my son’s risk of suicide increased that day. As much as it hurt me, lying to him would not protect him. As he gets older, the answers to his questions will be more in-depth, but he needed to hear truth that day. He needed to see that as much as it hurts, we talk, we feel, and we process. He learned that even if it breaks my heart I will always speak truth to him and the trust between us is secure.
In speaking truth to children, there is an awareness of emotional and cognitive development. I know my children’s personalities and levels of comprehension so in speaking truth there is an awareness of disclosure. When speaking truth to children we should challenge them. The difficult questions will most likely have difficult answers. If I mislead, avoid, or sugarcoat my response, I am doing a disservice to my children. Knowledge is power. If I want my children to understand, I need to provide the information necessary to make decisions.
It’s ironic if you think about it. I have said to my children, “just tell me the truth and the consequences will be less.” As parents we teach our children that truth causes fewer problems yet, so often parents lie to their children. Some lie from embarrassment, insecurity, uncertainty, doubt, or with the intent to protect them. You cannot protect your children by lying to them.
When we speak truth to our children we model the behavior we expect from children. Children are more intelligent and insightful than some people realize. When children are intentionally misled or lied to it results in disrespect and loss of trust in that relationship. A child might be quick to forgive but the memory will remain intact and will influence future interactions and relationships. When we as parents chose to speak truth to our children we allow for their world to expand outside of themselves. When we have honest discussions using age-appropriate concepts and language we aide in positive emotional development. Telling the truth even when the topic is difficult—such as divorce, terminal illness, mental health, or substance abuse—allows kids to witness emotional regulation. They learn how to process feelings and talk about difficult subjects.
When we tell the truth, we set an expectation of honesty. We all deserve the truth even if it’s not what we want to hear.
Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.