How honest your kids are with you is the best gauge of the health of your relationship with them.
First, because an honest relationship with your kids won’t happen without unconditional love, and unconditional love is at the heart of every healthy relationship with kids.
Unconditional love for your kids means you can add nothing and take nothing away from how much you love them. That sounds straightforward, but it’s not. Love and relationships are full of disappointment. Your kids will let you down, they’ll show disrespect, you’ll be frustrated at their flaws. But in great relationships, built on unconditional love, none of that changes your love for them, because you love them not for what they do but for who they are. Honesty needs this kind of love to thrive. For kids to be willing to share their failures, their flaws, and their struggles, they need to know it will not change how much they are loved. Honest kids are a sign that they know what it is to be loved unconditionally.
Second, because an honest relationship won’t happen without open communication. For you to be able to talk with your kids openly requires you to be present. You won’t have honesty if you don’t talk to your kids, and you won’t talk if you’re not there. Honest can only thrive when you’re present and make time for your kids. When your kids are honest with you, it’s a great sign that they know you make time for them.
Thirdly, because an honest relationship won’t exist unless there is trust. Trust is the basis on which we share all sorts of unflattering information about ourselves. We trust we won’t be ridiculed for our mistakes and we trust we’ll get sympathy from the person listening. We trust we will be accepted for who we are and the effort of sharing will be rewarded with an understanding ear. Trust is hard to build and is quickly broken, and it’s integral to healthy relationships. Honesty, the willingness of your kids to share unflattering information about themselves, is a marker that your kids trust you as their parent, to listen well and take their cares and concerns seriously.
But why aspire to honesty all? Why does it matter that we build the sorts of relationships where honesty can thrive?
- Honesty begets trust, which means that if you are willing to tell the truth and be open with people, you win more trust. Trust is the bedrock of relationships in society and without trust you won’t get very far. Without the sort of honesty that builds trust, kids will be left isolated. If you want to raise kids that can thrive in society, they need to learn to be honest.
- Honest people develop deeper, stronger, more enriching relationships with others. If you’re thinking about your kid’s future and want them to build a good relationship with a spouse, with future kids or just have close friendships generally, learning to be honest is essential to the strength and longevity of those relationships that are life-defining.
- Raising honest kids and teaching them to be truthful from a young age builds the habit for life. It’s a very hard thing to apply later in life if you’ve not been steered in that direction from a young age. Honesty matters from a young age because not telling the truth is a sticky habit that will be hard to break later in life.
But honesty also matters now. It will deeply affect the quality of the relationship with your kids today. That’s because honest kids give you the freedom to parent with confidence and in turn give your children the freedom they need to discover, explore and grow in confidence too.
There is so much we worry about as parents that we can’t control, and the thing about worry is it strips us of our confidence. When we worry, we become overbearing parents, checking in, nagging and saying ‘no’ to things because we’re unsure of what will happen. Our instincts as parents are to protect our kids from danger, so if you can’t protect them from particular things you start trying to protect them from everything indiscriminately. That’s what kills your confidence as a parent and then starts limiting your kid’s opportunities to explore and grow in confidence themselves.
I don’t believe parents want this to be the case. We know our kids need to struggle and fail at times to learn how to succeed later in life. It’s a fragile balancing act with our desire for their safety, but it’s much harder to get this balance right - allowing kids the freedom to fail - when we don’t believe they’ll be honest about how they’re coping or the mistakes they’ve made. When kids feel they can’t be honest with you as a parent, you lose them as your guide in how much intervention they need, and whether you need to act to prevent them from danger. Without honesty, your default parenting worry kicks in and your confidence disappears.
However, honest kids give you license as a parent to grant your kids greater freedom. When you know what help to give and when to give it, because your kid tells you, you can be far more confident sending them out into the world. We can’t control everything in the world and we know it’s not right to eliminate every bump in the road for them, so the best we can do is create an environment where our kids can be honest with us, so that we can be helpful only when we’re needed.
We have three young children. There is still much for us to learn. But I know we want to be doing things now to make sure that honesty can thrive in our home. That means doing everything to show unconditional love, communicate openly, and build trust. But there are also thing we aim to do to help show our kids that honesty matters.
- First, we put honesty on a pedestal. That means the consequences of misbehaving or doing something unkind sometimes matters less than being truthful about what happened. We don’t see everything that’s happened so when someone comes to us upset, we ask our kids to be honest. To aide that, there are times when we tell our kids they won’t be in trouble if they tell the truth. We want them to know that honesty matters more than getting it right. We want them to know they can always tell us when they’ve done things wrong, or when they’ve made mistakes.
- Second, we praise them when they are truthful. That can occur in very insignificant situations. If they tell us that they are struggling, or that they are tired, or that they are feeling emotional, or that they are upset about something someone has done to them the first thing we do is praise them for being honest. We praise open communication about emotions and thoughts that we cannot see. We never tell them to get on with it and we don’t dismiss those feelings. We praise the fact that they have been open and willing to share with us.
- Thirdly we try and live honestly ourselves. Kids follow examples long after they have forgotten the advice we’ve spoken to them. And that means the example of our lives will matter more and last longer in their memories. In our home that looks like being honest with each other as parents. It looks like being honest about our feelings with each other. It looks like confronting things that we are upset about and sharing openly and kindly when our kids have done things that are wrong. If we can model honesty in our home, if we ourselves put it on a pedestal, my hope is that our kids will follow.
Honesty matters above all, and if we want to raise confident kids it’s vital we build home environments where honesty can thrive.