Truth and Consequences
For a while there, we had quite the tough time fighting a battle for honesty with our four year old. He discovered, as I suppose all kids his age do, that what he says doesn’t always have to match what actually happened. We did all sorts of things to drive the lesson home. I told him the story of Peter and the Wolf (yes, the version where Peter gets eaten). We explained that the problem with lying is that people stop believing you.
And, of course, we started coming down hard on him every single time he either didn’t tell the truth or avoided it.
One night, things kind of came to a breaking point. J was out and I was putting the kids to bed by myself. Our usual bedtime routine ends with J in the room with the kids singing them a lullaby called “Stay Awake” (from Mary Poppins). When she’s out, of course, that falls to me.
On this particular night, after I finished C said “You didn’t sing it five times. Mom sings it five times.”
“No way” I said. I mean, I do a pretty good rendition of “Stay Awake” but I wasn’t going to sing it five times. There are limits.
“Yes she does! She sings Stay Awake five times!”
I knew that she didn’t sing the song five times. It was pretty ludicrous to even suggest it. It was time to bring down the hammer of truth. “No she doesn’t. She doesn’t sing Stay Awake five times.”
“Yes she does!”
“Are you sure you’re telling the truth?”
“But she does! She does! Five times!”
The problem in this situation is that you’re in a face off. There’s no middle ground when each of you are directly contradicting the other. I, however, was absolutely certain of my position. “No lying,” I said sternly. “Do you understand me? You have to tell the truth. Otherwise, no one will pay attention to what you say.”
“I’m not lying! She does! She says it five times! It’s true.”
I walked out of their bedroom so his little brother could sleep. He followed me. Once we got outside, I turned to him. “Okay, I’m going to call her and ask. Do you know how much trouble you’re going to be in if you’re not telling the truth? You’ve never been in that much trouble.” I paused for emphasis, standing as tall and as threatening as I could. I think I even leaned forward a bit, so I was looming over him. “Are you sure you want to stick with your story?”
It’s worth noting here that the big guy has been in trouble a time or two. Saying that he was going to be in more trouble than ever before was actually a pretty big thing. In fact, I was kind of wondering what sort of punishment that would entail. However, he’s also pretty darned stubborn. He hesitated only a second before pointing to the phone. “Call her!”
So I picked up the phone and called. After we exchanged pleasantries (which consisted mainly of me saying that everyone was fine), I asked her the question. “Do you really sing ‘Stay Awake’ five times every night?”
She was exasperated “What? No, of course not.”
I was holding the phone, of course, so that the big guy could hear it also. He immediately started hopping up and down. “No, wait! Wait! We counted! Five times! You say Stay Awake five times! You did, you did!”
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and then she started laughing. I straightened up and put the phone to my ear. “He’s right,” she said. “We’ve been counting the number of times that I say ‘Stay Awake’ in the song. I say it five times.”
Then it hit me. She says “stay awake” five times. She doesn’t sing the whole song five times. The little guy had been telling the truth. I probably had left out a few “stay awake”s. I hung up the phone.
I knelt down and held out my arms for a hug. “Sorry about that. You’re absolutely right.”
He was understandably reluctant to go for the hug. “But you didn’t. You didn’t sing Stay Awake five times. I counted.”
I nodded. “You’re right. I’m sorry about that too.”
He relaxed and came to the hug. Afterwards, I held him out at arm’s length. “You were very brave standing up to me like that,” I said. “I’m really proud of you. When you’re telling the truth, you have to stand by it and you did.”
He looked at me and sniffled. I smiled and said “I was pretty scary, wasn’t I?”
He laughed and nodded. “Yeah.”
The next time I had lullaby duties, I added three extra “stay awake”s at the end – just to be on the safe side. C laughed.