Words Matter… Use Them Wisely!

When we're frustrated with a child or are looking for a way out of a difficult-to-explain situation, it can be tempting to be dishonest with kids. While it can be easy to dismiss these instances as "white lies," they can be deeply damaging to children, rupturing trust and feelings of security.

If you haven't yet uttered (or wanted to) the words "Hurry up, or we're leaving you behind!" then you're fortunate. Caring for children who are perpetually making you late to Church, don't seem to listen to your warnings about when it will be time to leave the park, or are just generally slow in getting ready, can be frustrating to the whole family. However, when you threaten to leave them, even if you never would, children often believe that you would do so. That's the power of the threat. Children need to know that their caregivers love and care for them and would never leave them alone and unprotected. The danger of making this threat definitely outweighs the benefit.

Similarly, when kids ask tough questions, telling a white lie can seem like the easy answer. "Where did Rover go?", a child might ask about a pet. "Oh, he had to go live on a farm where he can run and be free," will keep them happy for a while, but if they discover the dog has actually died, suddenly they may have difficulty trusting your answers to their questions. 

Alternative solutions to these situations can be more complex, but will benefit you and the child in your care in the long run. In the case of a child who doesn't want to get going, consider positive discipline. For example, a child who doesn't want to get ready to go to Church could be told "You know, only kids who get dressed and in the car on time will be able to have treats after Mass and run around and play afterward with their friends." 

When it's difficult to think of age-appropriate answers to questions, the best scenario is when you can brainstorm ahead of time to think of how to approach an issue. There are many good books, for example, about dying that can be an aid to explaining to children. Or, you may choose to give them some information that is appropriate while withholding all the details until they are older. A good example is my 6 year old who is very interested in World War II. When he asks about Hitler, I explain that he wanted to take over other countries and that he imprisoned Jewish people and many others, but I do not go into detail about what happened in concentration camps. As he gets older and is able to process more of that information, I will share it with him.

Ultimately, what you say matters. The kids in your care are listening and these interactions are an opportunity to build trust and communication with them. As the years go on, these choices will bear fruit, even if the kid who is taking 20 minutes to put on his socks is driving you crazy now!



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