One time or another all of us have been the proverbial child caught with our hand in the cookie jar. Averting our eyes from the evidence, with the tell tell crumbs on our fingers, we denied our culpability in a bold effort to avoid the scolding, the shame, the consequence of our action.
In confronting this universal behavior, my purpose is not to focus on teaching the negative results of lying, but rather to focus on the positive outcomes for owning and acknowledging our mistakes and choices.
Back to the cookie jar. A parent entering the scene of the “crime” often has a solid understanding of the missing treats, based on the position of the stool, the child and the container of goodies.
The mode of the questioning parent is key to turning the event into an effective growth experience. Expressing disappointment that the child did not respect and follow a family rule and/or did not immediately confess their wrong doing must be secondary to supporting the child in the frightening process of learning to own his mistakes.
The parent might began with a neutral inquiry such as “Jane, Johnny,can you tell me why the stool is out of place?” The child has two choices; to acknowledge eating the cookie or to invent a false story to support his or her innocence. As the child begins to weave his or her “not me” story, the parent gently interrupts, looks deeply into the child’s eyes with patience and uses the following declaration.
“Jane, Johnny, when mom (dad, an adult) asks you what happened, almost every time I already know the answer. What is really important here is for you to put into your own words what you have done.” If the child does not respond to this prompt the adult may followup with, “ I understand that it can be scary to take responsibility for your actions. I can hold your hand to give you my support.’
Most children are able to take ownership of their choices in response to this approach, allowing them greater opportunity to learn from their mistake. They also learn that while being honest does not erase all consequences, it almost always results in a lessor punishment, as well as peace of conscience and a feeling of building trust.
While these patterns of response are powerful for children, they apply equally to adult action. Fortunate is the adult who enters relationships having developed the strength of character to honestly own their mistakes, yielding trust, peace and forgiveness with those they cherish.
About the Author:Bonne Norman is a licensed masters social worker who recently completed 18 years of service with LCISD assisting children and families in an elementary school setting. During this period she developed a strong multicultural perspective while working with a wide variety of families dealing with behavior disorders, crisis and loss, relational stress and major changes in the family system.