If you have not read the book NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, I suggest you do. I warn you, it’s not terribly flashy or fun, rather a synthesis of research on raising children that will certainly make you question everything. Throughout the book I kept fining myself having an ‘ah-ha’ about why in the world our children do the things they do. There is also an interesting look into the parenting styles of other cultures that is truly fascinating. One chapter that really stood out to me was about lying – why our children lie to us and how we, as parents are in many ways to blame. Yes, that’s right – kids lie to us because we make them.
Just the other day Audrey and I were in the kitchen and I was unpacking her lunch box only to find her reusable ice back had several teeth marks in it. Clearly she had chewed all four sides of the (non-edible) ice pack. I knew she did it, I mean who else would have done this? I know I certainly didn’t do it. There was probably a group of them at the table chewing their packs and laughing. I’m sure at the time it was hysterical. Instead of directly addressing the curious finding, and letting her know that these things really shouldn’t be put in our mouth, I did what I shouldn’t have done and asked her about it. Holding up the evidence I asked, “Audrey did you chew on this ice pack?” She stopped in her tracks. Her eyes focused on me as she completely froze. Again, “Did you chew on this?”
I know my child knows right from wrong. In fact, I watch her actually live in a way that is right and just. We recently attended a birthday party for a friend where everyone was able to make a stuffed animal. As a party favor, everyone was given the choice of cute outfits to dress their animal. In a circle, each girl chose the skirt of her choice. Audrey selected a pink and black zebra stripped one. About three or four girls later, there weren’t anymore pink skirts which was very upsetting to another party guest. One of the moms suggested maybe someone give up or swap their pink skirt for another one to let this little girl have a pink one. Without prompting, Audrey offered up her pink skirt. She swapped with the other girl and in return she received a multi-colored polka-dot skirt. I was so proud of her! I hugged her and tried to express to her my overwhelming sense of pride. Later that evening while driving to get dinner I asked her why did she offer to give up her skirt. Her words to me were, “We should all be peacemakers and fill each others’ buckets.” I almost crashed my car.
As part of her Catholic education, there is a curriculum that focuses on doing good things for others and ‘filling other people’s buckets.’ In turn, by doing good for other people you fill your own bucket. We talk about it often at home and in an effort to make sure she doesn’t relate her emotions to food, I remind her that you can’t fill your bucket with ice cream. It’s a truly great concept to teach such an important value at such a young age. Of course, the bucket is sometimes used at inappropriate times like when she’s been up too late and is exhausted and I’m trying to get her to go to sleep. I hear through her tears, “Mommy my bucket is empty” in an attempt to extend our time together snuggled in her bed. It works.
Clearly, not only does she understand the concept of doing what is right, this little girl actually demonstrates it through her actions. I know she knows right from wrong and yet, standing in my kitchen she was poised and ready to lie to her mother.
“Did you chew on this?” I inquisitively asked, standing there holding the chewed-up ice pack. With her beautiful green eyes locked on mine I watched as her head full of curls begin to ever so slightly turn left to right. I know she was conflicted. She was at a crossroads. Of course she knew she chewed the pack – we all knew she did it – but she didn’t want to disappoint me. With my question, I basically set her up. She knows lying isn’t good but it sure beats disappointing your mother! She had to choose the lesser of two evils.
Thankfully I am smart. (Yes, from this point on, I am no longer making excuses for my brilliance. You heard it here first.) I realized immediately what I had done. Getting her to say ‘yes’ that she chewed the pack really wasn’t the point. Why I was focusing on that remains a mystery. The focus should have been simply making sure it doesn’t happen again. Before her head could make a full commitment to shaking ‘no’ I interjected and told her it is all ok. “It’s fine, it’s fine. Sweetheart, it’s ok. I know you chewed it but I need you to know that it’s not ok – these things are not meant to be eaten. Ok? I don’t want you to chew on anything like this again. Ok?” No matter my attempts to assure her, it was over. Tears came and I could see she felt terrible. She was about to lie to her mother – I bet it felt like the conflict of her life!
Later that evening I thought back to the many, many times I set her up like this especially when she was little. “Audrey did you color on the table?” Of course she said ‘no’ as she stood there with a crayon in her hand. “Did you spill that juice cup?” Again, ‘no way’ as she was sitting with her knee on the toppled cup. “Is that your toothbrush in the tub?” With a firm shake of the head she replied “Not me!” Why do we ask these kinds of questions? It’s so silly. I’m the adult – I have several more years of experience than my two year old therefore, I should know exactly who spilled the damn juice. It should go without question that there is no one else in this house that would stash a toothbrush in the bathtub.
My precious child was so upset about what happened I hugged her and tried to assure her that everything was fine. We snuggled right there on the kitchen floor and despite my feelings to the contrary, just this once, we filled our buckets with vanilla ice cream.