James is a deceitful boy. When James disappoints his parents they are quick to remind him of it. In James’ home hard work, and honesty are valued – so are kindness and love. James knows this. When James’ parents tell him he is a liar, he has no argument. His feet are glued to this position the same way deceit is glued to his internal cells. At some point deceit and James became one.
Mathew sometimes lies. He lies when he feels cornered or trapped and sometimes he lies to get his own way. His parents are quick to point out when deceit may have hitched a ride on his shoulder. In Mathews home physical fitness, and honesty are valued – so are love and commitment. Mathew knows this. When his parents open the ‘invisible lie box’ and exclaim “Whoops……looks like one may be missing….” Mathew may confirm or deny this. Mathew doesn’t stand in glue. Mostly he ends up saying something like “I lied – I’m sorry”. At some point Mathew realised that deceit was a little like a button you might push on the play station control; it was something you could chose. It was just one choice – out of many.
In my work I have met a few unfortunate James and a few lucky Mathews. It is quite difficult for the James’s’ to understand they have a choice. Mostly this is because of how others see them and hence, how they see themselves. James never hears “That doesn’t sound like something my James would want to do’ when his latest exploits are revealed.
If you think about the last time you felt honourable, giving, generous or kind, chances are it made you inclined to give more, do more, or be more. A kind of warmth sat in your chest and you wanted more of it.
The experience of achieving and giving is infectious. Sometimes even when we have done wrong (been rude to our spouse/ forgotten yet another lunch date) and we fix it (Cook him his favourite meal/ pick her daisies from our garden)we get that same warmth in our chest. We feel pride. It feels good to do good. And, it is no different for our children.
One of my favourite lines is -’Every child deserves to have at least one adult who is irrationally positive about them’. Now irrational positivity can sometimes be in short supply but when it is there in the flesh….when you hold it close and stand by your child’s side I doubt that any anger, deceit, sulks, sadness or mischief can truly compete.
If we can find a way to unglued (or un-label) our kids, even during the most repetitive and trying of times we offer them ‘choice’. When we understand that they may not always make the wisest decision about things in the first instance but we hold the hope that they will make better decisions next time or in the future – we create space. Deep breath space. Looking heavenward space.
With a little hope and positivity we can invite better choices and….warm chests.
**This article originally written for The Guardian and Parentline