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Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Elephant Never Forgets

Do you lie to your kids?  I used to, quite a bit, actually.  When my twins were younger babies, it was out of sight, out of mind, so if they started fighting over a toy, I'd hide it.  The toy is gone, I'd say.  And they would accept that and move on almost immediately. 

These days, their memory is excruciatingly detailed and longterm.  Hiding a toy no longer solves a problem, it exacerbates it.  And toy-hiding is just the tip of the falsehood iceberg.  No more can I distract them with something inferior to their wishes in the hopes of having them forget what they were on about.  They're old enough now to understand my new favorite terms - later, hold on, and in a minute.  In fact, Dulce has started mimicking me.  "Lon!" she'll shout if she needs to pick up a toy before doing what I've asked of her.  But if I use these terms, I know that I've set the expectation - an expectation that will not just disappear with the passage of time.  If I tell them we'll go outside after their nap, I hear a chorus of "outside, outside, outside!" when they wake up.  If I say they'll get ice cream in a minute, if they finish their lunch, all I hear is "ice cream, ice cream, ice cream, ice cream," until I get them that special treat.

And their memory doesn't stop at their sense of hearing.  It never ceases to surprise me what will jog a memory for them, and often it takes me more than a few minutes to catch up with their racing thoughts.  For instance, just the other day, I put Dulce in a dress.  "Beach," she said.  "Beach, beach, beach.  Beach?"  I was puzzled.  Why would she be talking about the beach right now?  Her father is at work, we don't have the car, and there's simply no way I would have said anything about it because it's a promise I just can't fulfill.

"Beach?  Beach dress?"

It turns out, the last time we went to the beach, I had put Dulce in that same dress.  I never would have connected the two, but, to her, that dress was her beach-going dress.  She waited patiently for the pay-off, and eventually I was able to convince her that we would go to the beach this weekend, when Daddy was home.  It will be interesting to see if she remembers this when the weekend arrives.  Of course, we'll follow up on the promise.

It's important to follow up on these promises we make because our children are just learning that they have the choice to trust us, or not to trust us.  This is the beginning of the long battle we will have with them as they grow older.  To promote honesty, we have to give it.  They now know when we're letting them down.  If it happens too often, they cease to believe us when we say later - the immediate consequence being that our words lose their value.  If children believe that they can trust their parents, in the short term it makes it easier for them to settle down and wait for what they want while their parents can finish what they're doing.  In the long term, the parents are instilling the value of honesty and building family trust that will last into their children's teenage years.

So, no, I don't tell my children the television is sleeping when it's off, but that's only because they wouldn't believe me, and it would chip away at the trust I'm trying to build.  I've not been above it in the past, but different times call for different measures.  And while I sometimes may wish for the days when simply hiding a toy and telling my kids it was gone solved a problem, I'm heartened to see my little babies growing up and using their minds.

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