Should you be honest with your children?

compass copyThe post today is thanks to the Daily Prompt: Childhood

My thoughts about the prompt of “childhood” do not immediately go to my own, instead I instantly thought of my kids and their current situation in childhood. Every parent questions if they’re doing stuff “right,” if their kids will be well-adjusted, happy, and will contribute to the world. We all are just doing the best that we can, with what we have been given.

Well something I was given is cancer. With this “gift,” (and I am starting to look at it as a gift, it’s still a little too fresh to truly be a gift yet) came many unknowns. When given the diagnosis, I thought of the effects on my kids. How would my boys react to this? Should I hide it entirely? Should I just be totally honest? In discussing the options with my husband, we decided to take it one step at a time and apply our general “rule” for parenting… Take the lead from the child. This is not to say, that the child “runs the household,” but I have always tried to look at my kids as individuals, with unique strengths and needs. My 8 year old is very intelligent, intuitive, and creative. We knew that if left to his own thoughts about the matter, he would invent a much scarier reality than the truth, which many kids do by the way.

As a counselor with a speciality in trauma, I’m also aware that kids have A LOT more going on inside them than adults think. In my opinion, one of the first steps when handling difficult events, even possible traumatic experiences, is to lay the truth out there. There is healing in the truth. Why is a lie or an omission so hurtful? Simply put it’s a betrayal, especially in a relationship where trust and love are the foundation, which is the case with children. Children come into this world vulnerable, trusting their parents to care for and love them.

That is why I have tried to be as honest with my children as possible. Age appropriate, loving honesty.

Here are some suggestions based on my personal and professional opinions about how to show loving honesty to your children.

  • Think before you share: While openness and honesty are wonderful, the honesty should be planned on your part. It’s never a good idea to go into any discussion (especially with curious youngsters) without a plan.
  • Be age-appropriate: Think about how you can help your child understand based on their age and maturity level. A 2 year old may need a book or story to process the information. A 10 year old may need to hear more details and have more questions. Make sure that you don’t “over-share” or talk above a child’s understanding.
  • Make sure it’s the right setting for the discussion: If you’re sharing a particularly difficult situation, such as a death, serious illness, or worldwide zombie outbreak (just seeing who is really reading this), make the setting as comfortable and calming as possible. Make sure you have time to discuss the situation and to answer questions. Which brings me to my next point.
  •  Ask for and answer all questions: Welcome the idea of answering any questions your child may have. Make sure they know that you will be there to answer any questions that they may have in the future too.
  • Try to normalize, while validating their feelings: Everyone goes through difficult times which is encouraging for many children to know, however it is also important to validate their personal experience. For example they may not be feeling sad or scared like you thought they would, but instead they may feel relief in knowing the truth. It’s important to validate whatever emotion they are having.
  • Take their lead/know your child: Sometimes kids are okay. You may think that they will have a hard time with the situation, but they either aren’t worried or they are able to cope with their worry, sadness, anger, etc. Other times, they may have a very hard time with something you thought was not a big deal. Take the lead from your child as to how much honesty they need, if they need extra comfort, or if more time should be spent on the issue.
  • Give it a rest: With a difficulty situation comes a lot of intense emotions, new experiences, and uncertainty. It is important to give yourself and your kids a rest when it comes to the situation. In my case the situation is cancer, but my kids (and I) can’t be all-cancer-all-the-time, and we need a break sometimes! Do something fun, be silly, get out of the routine, laugh together.

Yes, kids can “bounce back” and childhood is a time of resiliency, however I believe that parents have the responsibility of encouraging this process by showing love through honesty, openness, and modeling of healthy communication. Which, I know, is easier said than done, but it’s what I’m shooting for.

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