Grounded

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

“Where did you find it?”

The boy’s face reflected his struggle: to tell the truth would be to admit he’d been doing what he oughtn’t, but to withhold the truth could mean that what needs to happen, won’t.

The woman waited. Integrity was best cultivated by one’s own appreciation of the internal equilibrium that is restored by accepting the inherent benefit of right versus wrong, and not by shaming or attempting to compel it via fear of punishment.

She knew, of course, that he’d been out of bed, and on a night when he’d already been grounded for breaking his sister’s carpentry project. All the more reason, she thought, to let him find a place to dig himself out of a hole of misdemeanors.

Some children tended to break rules all the time. Her son did not. Or at least not without what one could usually understand as good reason. That the nine-year-old had refused to say why he’d demolished Liz’s contraption, and that he did not argue when he’d been sent to his room, told her there was already more to the story than what he was willing to tell her.

The moment lingered. She let it stretch.

“Outside,” he said. He lifted his eyes to her, having crossed the Rubicon.

Displeased as she was that he broke curfew, she was proud of him for finding the courage to admit it.

“I see,” she nodded and raised an eyebrow in direction of his cupped hands.

“I had to save it.” Timidity was gone now that truth was set in motion. “Liz said she was going to put it in her new cage and keep it. But it is not a pet, and it is hurt and it cannot fly and something was going to come and eat it.”

The boy’s eyes were bright with tears of righteous defiance. “I don’t care if you ground me till I’m, like, a hundred. He needed help!”

The bird wriggled clumsily in the boy’s palms and the child’s young face crumbled in uncertainty. “But … um … before you send me to my room for forever, can you please please drive me to the vet?”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto prompt

 

 

Emperor’s New Clothes

the-emperors-new-clothes-3-coloring-page

Nata Silina at Supercoloring.com

 

“I expect loyalty,” he stated.

A silence followed.

Shock or perhaps because

There was

No honorable way to respond.

 

“I need loyalty,” he repeated

With the implication clear:

You bend the knee

Or you are gone,

Swear fealty to the man

Or you’re a traitor

And an enemy to be scorned.

“You will always get honesty from me,”

Came the measured return.

“That’s what I want,” twisted the retort,

“An honest loyalty.”

 

As if there was such thing

As honest loyalty

To one who deemed acceptable

Only what offers

Praise and supplication,

And allows no room

For truth,

Let alone for the calling out of

The Emperor’s bare bottom

Of the barrel

Governing

Or his disregard for honor

As he dons repeated sets of

Non-existent,

Yet much lauded by him,

‘New Clothes.’

 

 

Note: As it happens, the book I’m reading and which was right by my elbow as I read the prompt … is “The Mueller Report” (w/ commentary by the Washington Post; page 296 of the book, page 35 of volume II in the report).  … And the rest, well, is history. And what will be …? We shall yet see.

For Linda Gill’s SoCS: open book, point, write

 

Truth Be Told–From the Mouths of Babes

“What does it mean, to tell the truth?”

A child asked me that. As usual, they are my greatest teachers. “What do you think?” I returned the question, wondering at the child’s working hypothesis (and chickening out just a little bit–let the munchkin do the hard work …).

I got the look I deserved, and: “To not be a liar.”

“Hmm,” I non-committed. “What does it mean to lie?”

“To say you didn’t do it but you did?” he tried. “And to be mean.”

I raised an eyebrow. This kid was good at reading body language.

“Yeah, because someone else get in trouble.”

“Oh, I can see how that would not be very nice, to get someone else in trouble. Anything else lying means?”

A moment of scrunched forehead. “Is it still lying even if you pretend you didn’t do it but you don’t say?”

“What do you think?”

A sage nod. A sigh. “Yeah, it still mean. Someone still get in trouble, right? Because the teacher think its them.”

“So…” I prompted (he was doing so well on his own, I felt like my words would be interfering).

“So … telling the truth is being not mean?” he ventured. His little face was quite serious, thinking this through.

“Hmm.”

“But truth is hard,” he sighed, a six-year-old summing up centuries of philosophy. “It can get you in trouble. … you know, if you did bad things.”

He paused. “But … then you can say sorry, maybe. Maybe you won’t be in trouble. … if you’re lucky.”

“Yeah, being honest can help.”

Big brown eyes hung onto mine. “What do you think is worser, being mean or being in trouble?”

Tough one. I’m returning it to him. “What do you think?”

“Being mean.” He did not hesitate. “Being mean is worser.”

“How come?” I pushed. Curious. Enchanted by this child.

“Oh … because … being mean makes me more in trouble,” he stated. Pointed to his midriff. “With my heart.”

Old soul, big spirit, that.

gandhi

Encourage!

encourage

How many times have you been tempted to point out what needs fixing? Wanted to highlight what is wrong, what “can use a tune-up”, what one should be doing differently, or more of, or with less drama, or with more oomph, more boldness, better self-image, assertion, courage, ease?

We have all been there, prodding someone along with good intentions (and other times with a bit of righteous indignation of “I told you so” and “no wonder you are as you are, if only …”). We see someone stuck, repeating old mistakes, mired in old pattern and fogged-up insight recognition … and we point it out–not to hurt, oh, no–only as an intended kindness. We hope a kick in the right region will do the trick this time.

We mean well, but we forget the price of shaming. We underestimate or look away from the price of boring holes in someone for the sake of our sense of having done something ‘for them’ (when we did it for our own need maybe just as much if not more). Shame stilts. It burrows. It slips whatever good intentions into the cracks between what already feels broken and has it ooze away into the void. It makes the distance from targets loom larger and comparisons ache harder.

Almost no one gets criticized as much as children do. Children bear the brunt of much correction. Often. And in what should be counter-intuitive, the very kids who struggle most with getting something right, are the ones to get the most critic for once again doing it imperfectly, for again being wrong. For not following the directions. Again. For missing something. For not listening well enough, not trying hard enough, not having the right attitude.

When criticizing them, we certainly do teach the children something: we show them we are focused on their errors, not their strengths; on the target, not the path; on the final product, no matter the effort or progress. Critic chips another bit of self-esteem and makes exuberance too pricey to risk finding. It does not build. It hollows out.

Showing the way works better. Breaking down a task to smaller steps aids faster. Pointing out what worked as a path to follow gets farther. Encouragement helps more.

Encouragement does not equal the blind empty phrasing for a mediocre effort with: “this is a masterpiece and you are always the most amazing child ever born and all you do is perfect”–kids smell the shallowness of that a mile away. Praising indiscriminately is as irrelevant as constant criticism. It is white noise. It does not help the child see where her effort mattered not lets her trust that you see a difference and even care to note the true wheat effort from off-handed chaff.

Encouraging means giving balanced credit for an honest effort. It means a fair praise that matches the magnitude of accomplishment for that child at that moment, while still providing firm support when efforts fail. It means letting the child know that you notice. That you see THEM and not only their ability relative to others, even as you help them find a better way to measure up.

Children meet plenty of critic without what we might think we ‘owe’ them as a way of caregiving. They don’t need more people holding mirrors to their flaws. The world will quite surely provide enough of that. Encourage. I’ve never met a child who cannot use a little more.

Some equate critic with being honest. With “saying like it is” and “facing reality” and “toughening up.” This is not honesty. It is boot-camp. Actual honest critic is only one that comes when the words one says (one’s tone, one’s posture–critic is communicated in much more than words), flow from a well of true encouraging. It is so only if the message is imparted with sensitivity and care that ensures it builds, rather than tears down, puts down, whittles, or compares. Only if on the heels of pointing out a place for improvement, there is the vista of all the effort put forth already, a detailing of the next step–and a helping hand.

A rule of thumb: critics abound out there already. Least of them being the inner critic that you’ll instill within a child with alarming speed. Be an encourager. An honest buddy offering support along the roughest patches and a ‘that-a-girl’ when each are overcome.

Encourage. It is nourishment for growing. It is like water on parched land.

How do you teach integrity?

integrity

We all want the children in our lives to have integrity and a moral compass. We want them to not only know right from wrong, but to apply it. We wish for them to have empathy toward others and to choose the better path not just to avoid punishment, but because it is the right thing to do.

That’s all well and good, but how do you teach integrity? How is it related to empathy and is it even something that is learned, or something one has to be born with? Something some of us ‘have’ and others ‘not’?

Though individual sensitivity and empathy-capacity varies, and some children are born with more empathy-capacity than others, empathy is still something almost all children can learn and have develop. Children vary in the age they begin to show clear empathy, but babies and young children are naturally self-centered and egoistical. It is normal for them to view others’ feelings through their own and to judge situations according to whether they’d get a reward or keep from getting punished, rather than the inherent morality. Fairness may be easier to detect, but true morality is learned, as is the reasons for it.

A child may not eat another’s cookie not because they persuade themselves they do not want it, but because the praise for not doing so may be worth more, or the disappointment of another in them if they not abstain may feel worse than the immediate gratification of eating the cookie. Children learn to share–maybe at first not so much because they truly want to share, but because of the positive feedback and praise that they get when they do so. With good modeling and opportunities, they can be taught how others may have feelings just like their own, and that other people’s feelings matter, too (e.g. if someone ate their candy, they’d be sad, so they can understand how if they took another’s treat the other child may feel sad about it). While some toddlers show well developed empathy, oftentimes it is through the preschool and then kindergarten years, that children learn to appreciate another persons’ pain, and to understand that another person may hold a different opinion or agenda and to accept that as okay. They learn to follow rules (all the better when rules are clear, consistent, and kind), and they practice enforcing rules in their peer and imaginary play.

How do they learn that? Well, empathy and integrity are best taught through empathy and integrity. It may sound simplistic, but there are all too many examples of attempts to teach integrity through fear of punishment (“If you take candy without paying, the police will take you to jail”), or empathy through guilt-inducing and shame (“look what you did–now she’s crying! I told you to not take her teddy bear from her!”) Fear can certainly be a deterrent, but fear is not integrity, nor is guilt the same as empathy.

Teach empathy through modeling your own. Children who have sensitive caregivers who show them care, who reflect their feelings back to them, and help them put experiences into words, are more likely to develop empathy themselves and to do so sooner. Be kind, demonstrate sympathy and empathy toward others–let your child see how you help a neighbor, or feed a stray, or hold a door for someone whose arms are full. Explain to your children about disabilities and differences, and make sure that you do not display disgust or ambivalence about the same. Apologize if you hurt someone–the child, too–even if by mistake, and acknowledge the feelings that your error caused and the need (and possibility) for repair. Be respectful of others’ feelings. Be kind.

Similarly, children whose parents and caregivers live by the same rules that they demand, learn integrity as a cohesive, non-confusing concept. Confusing rules result in confused and inconsistent learning. It is rather simple (if not easy): If you don’t want your child to lie, don’t tell them to answer the phone call you don’t want to take and say “Mommy’s not home,” or “Mommy is in the shower” (when you are not). If you don’t want your child to steal, don’t bring home pens from the office … If you don’t want them to cheat, don’t justify not following the rules at other times (lying about a child’s age to get out of fare or parking at a handicap space also counts …). Don’t promise what you do not intend to keep or just to get peace and quiet for the moment (“If you give your toy to your baby sister I will buy you a toy tomorrow”). Promises that are not kept, teach a child that words are empty and that it is okay to use untruth to defer discomfort. Be honest. Even when it is difficult. ‘fess up if you lied and explain how it happened and why you’d work hard to not have it happen again. You don’t have to be perfect, but you have to be a good enough role model … and to have the same patience with your child if they miss a step. Be curious rather than accusatory: a child who said an untruth to escape punishment is not “a liar”–though they may have lied. Don’t label, and let them explain what they feared would happen if they did tell the truth. You may find out something you need to learn, too: are your consequences fair? Would you have indeed flown off the handle or blamed them anyway?

Integrity begins with you. As does empathy. That includes empathy for yourself, as well. Be kind to yourself, let your child see a gentle way of relating to oneself as well as toward others. Be aware of phrases such as “I’m so fat” or “I’m such a loser” or “UGH, I’m such a moron!”–they get copied, they get internalized. Also, not only are you giving a less than kind model, but you are also bad mouthing your child’s parent … it is their mom or dad you are talking about …

Give children consistent fair rules, a good model, kind reflection, sensitive explanation, and they will learn that it feels good to be kind, and feels good to make a choice that is the right one. Even little ones can.

“I saw something amazing” a mom of a kid I work with called to tell me. “I gave Dave (age 5) a treat that he earned for cleaning up his room all week without whining, and he went to play outside on the deck. It is a two-family home and the neighbors’ children often come down to play, too. Tommy,  the neighbor’s kid, came downstairs to play. I saw Dave look at Tommy, then at his fruit-roll-up. He didn’t see me, but you could see his little brain working–clearly Tommy would want some … Dave then pulled out the whole roll-up, tore it in two, and gave half to Tommy. It was so sweet, I wanted to run out and hug him, but I also didn’t want to interfere–he was being kind because he chose to, and that was his moment, not mine. I am so proud!”

So was I.