Every parent wants to protect their children. This is not just true about physical safety, but their emotional well being. Unfortunately, many people choose to lie to their kids with the intent of shielding them from pain and/or disappointment. In the long run, this can do more damage than good. While we think of protecting them, we are also being untruthful. In many cases, this can break trust or fail to arm them with the ability to address difficult information.
I have referred to this before in earlier writings, but one of my favorite quotes was in a lecture given by Dr. Jordan Peterson. He asked the question, “do you want your children protected or strong?” We need to prepare our kids for life. This not only has to do with loss and struggle but also personal limits.
Your kids, as well as mine, are not the best at everything. They will have certain gifts. However, the idea that they can accel at anything is just not true. This is something that I needed to face with my own kids. My oldest child was/is an amazing musician. When it came to sports, um…not so much. So, what do I do? Do I try to convince him and myself that he is? Do I set him up for disappointment?
My advice is to be honest with your kids. This doesn’t mean that you have to just tell them that they suck at something. It is, however, important to classify an activity or ability as a pleasant past-time or for competition. Music could be an example to address. There are those that love music. They collect it, sing at their house, go to concerts, or even join a church choir. I don’t believe in squelching a love for a particular thing. However, when it comes to pursuing music as something to “hang your hat on”, anything less than an honest assessment is not serving your child’s best interest. If they lack true performer qualities, I would suggest that you present them with alternatives.
Another point is to know your child’s “thick skin” or lack thereof. My daughter loves music. One day when she was approximately 10, she was messing with my guitar and singing. All of a sudden, she stopped, looked at me, and said, “I suck at this, don’t I”. I nodded. Before you throw me under the bus and drive forward…and back up…and drive forward, I said, “do you love music”? She nodded. I said, “me too. However, I’m not the best guitar player”. I suggested to her that she was an amazing drawer, athlete, and speaker. I pointed out that I believe it was one of those areas that she could stand out and shine. She did.
I took an approach with my kids that I would not tell them what they wanted to hear if I believed it to be untrue. I would tell them what they needed to hear, and what I believed to be correct. This did wonders for our trust relationship that is intact to this very day. Above all, I wanted my kids to believe that dad would be honest. This meant that I would value this principle over a brief smile or happiness based on an untruth. Please take special note that I said “honest”, and not “correct”. I can be wrong. There are some things that I don’t analyze correctly. The important thing is that I set aside my bias as much as possible to give my children my best assessment.
What can a harmless lie do to a child? Go on youtube and watch the auditions for American Idol. There are people that have been lied to about their abilities, only to be crushed publically. Many times I believe that the parents must be in denial. Perhaps they can’t see past their bias opinions. To me, I would view such encouragement as an outright failure as a parent.
Television shows are just a visual of what is going on in every community. Let me restate that there is nothing wrong with having a love and a passion. However, children must have the tools to develop and accel. If they do have the basics and wish to sharpen, polish, and fight for something, I would say let their passion push them to it. Whether they fail or succeed, praise them for their courage and encourage them to move forward.
Finally, it is important to teach your kids about the “pond”. They need to understand that in a small community, they may be the talented one. However, this talent is in comparison to the other fish. As they move to a “bigger pond”, they will find more competition and bigger fish. In that new pond, they may not be the stand out fish that they were. This requires another assessment to evaluate ability and passion, and you as the parent may not be qualified to give an accurate judgment call. Be honest with your children. Let them know that you may need to defer to those with more experience in this particular situation.
Set your children for success. Don’t hide them from the truth about life or their abilities. While honesty may have an initial sting, they can grow to trust you above all others. Be willing to be strong enough for them. Be the best dad possible.