Firstly, what do we mean by teaching children right from wrong?
We mean we want them to learn:
- to tell the truth;
- not to be rude;
- to be kind and respectful to other people;
- not to litter etc.
These are the type of things we mean when we say we want to teach children right from wrong.
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The question is, how do we do this?
Often, when we talk about teaching children right from wrong, what we mean is this:
We’ve got to come down on them like a ton of bricks when they’ve stepped away from the straight and narrow!
But is this helpful?
When I was 17, my parents invited me out to dinner, to a nice restaurant in nearby Chelsea. And I was quite excited to go out with them. But after we’d ordered, they turned to me and the mood changed.
They said to me, “You were staying with your brother. You must have seen that he was taking drugs – why didn’t you tell us? It was very wrong of you and we’re really disappointed.”
They went on in this vein, and first of all, I was bewildered. And then I could feel the tears coming, and then the shame and embarrassment in the middle of this restaurant. There was nowhere to escape to.
What I took away from that conversation was that it wasn’t safe to talk with my parents about difficult things.
And also, that I might do something really, really wrong, like withholding the truth, without even realising it.
Those were conclusions that didn’t help with my confidence going forwards into my 20s, or with my relationship with my parents at that time.
And so, how different would it have been if my parents had sat me down and they’d said, “We know now that your brother’s been taking drugs, and you must have seen it when you were staying with him.
“We feel sorry that we must have made it hard to talk about these kinds of things with us.
“We’d like to repair that – we’d like to make that better. Can you help us?”
How different would that have been? And there might have been the beginning of something really beautiful – a beautiful conversation.
Of course, one of the things we want children to get clarity on is the value of telling the truth.
So, why do children lie in the first place?
The main reason children withhold the truth, or tell lies, is that they fear punishment and/or anger.
And so, the best way to help children to not tell lies, is to create safe spaces for them for them to speak the truth. Because children will speak the truth, when they feel safe.
I wonder what kind of conversation you’d like to have, the next time this comes up with your child?
Lying is bound to come up, so how could you create a safe space for your child to speak the truth?
Now what about when children overreact? Sometimes children get violent or very angry. How can we teach them the best way forward there?
I was visiting my parental home in London, a few years ago now, when, all of a sudden, the front door banged shut and a family member came in with her five-year-old daughter who stormed upstairs. Mum came into the kitchen and we were all looking at her as if to say, “What happened?”
They’d been to the park and the five-year-old was climbing on the climbing frame, and she asked to be lifted down. And the mum had jokily told her to get herself down.
But then, moments later, a little boy who was younger, got into difficulty right at the apex of this dome climbing frame. And he was asking to be helped, and he was crying. This mum looked around to see if there was a parent in sight, but there was no one there.
So she’d lifted him down.
And that’s when her daughter looked at her daggers, came quickly down and said, “You lifted him down and not me.”
She was pummelling her mother and she was really irate.
Her mother tried to explain that she was worried the boy would fall – the parents weren’t there – but nothing worked. And so the visit to the park came to an end, and they came back home. And we’d seen the rest of it.
That’s when I felt the eyes of the family turning and looking to me for some kind of answer.
I said, “Well, what if you go upstairs and say to her, ‘I’ve been wondering if, when I took that little boy down, you felt as if I didn’t love you properly, in that moment?’”
She went upstairs, and we waited downstairs with bated breath. We heard a rush of tears – tears of relief, tears of connection – and they came down happily, hand in hand.
That’s an example of how to create a safe space with a child. When we do this, the true reason for behaviour will be able to come out. And the true feelings will come out.
I think this is at the core of helping children practise making good decisions like telling the truth or asking for what they want without violence. This is how we can help them choose the more courageous, the more empowered or “right” action.
If you’re struggling with creating a safe space with your child and there’s something you’d like to discuss with them, do reach out to me. Send me a message and I’ll help you out.
And you can also download my meditation, Reset Your Relationship With Your Child, because sometimes, when there’s friction between us, and we’re in a bit of a ding-dong with our children, it’s harder to create those safe spaces.
The meditation clears away whatever might be in the way so that it’s easier to have those kinds of conversations. Why not give it a try?
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