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Sometimes kids are too honest

By Staff | Oct 23, 2009

Kids can teach you a lot about honesty.

Our little Abby is very honest – sometimes brutally honest.

Last week, Abby came to me and plopped herself on my lap and said, “I’m sorry I broke Daddy’s glasses.”

Of course her off-the-cuff comment sent chills up my spine since Matt’s new glasses just cost us a pretty penny. So as we went into her room expecting to find shattered lenses and bent frames, we were somewhat relieved to find out that she simply had broken the cords that held the lenses in the rimless frame. I knew it could be easily fixed, but didn’t want her to know that. After a stern warning from mom and dad, Abby has been instructed to never touch Daddy’s glasses again.

She had come to me to report her wrong- doing. She didn’t wait for us to discover it. She is amazingly honest and forthright. When we discover a mess of toys and ask, “Who did this?” She quickly offers up, “I did.” She has no idea that admitting her responsibility could get her into trouble. She doesn’t even attempt to cover her tracks.

I’m not saying we have a golden child who never fibs. She knows how to lie, but she’s not very good at it. She usually trips herself up in the process.

She’s developed this habit of claiming she has a tummyache whenever she doesn’t want to eat something in particular. For instance, she says, “I don’t want to eat my green beans. I have a tummyache. I want chips.” When we told her that she couldn’t have chips if she wasn’t going to eat her green beans, she promptly explained, “But I don’t have a tummyache for chips.”

She was so honest that she blew her own cover. She had a tummyache for green beans, but didn’t have one for chips. She knew she was using an excuse and knew how to use it. Too bad mom and dad didn’t fall for it.

A child’s honesty can really embarrass his or her parents. Kids don’t hesitate to wonder – loudly, most of the time – why someone is fat or their breath smells. Countless apologies have been made by red-faced parents.

It’s one thing when adults lack a mental filter and say whatever is on their mind. We often refer to them as “obnoxious,” “annoying,” or even “mean.” But when kids lack that filter and say whatever honest thought is on their little mind, it’s “hilarious,” “silly,” or even “adorable.”

Why can honesty be so shocking? It’s because as we get older we’ve spent a lifetime lying to ourselves. Like, my weight isn’t that bad. Smoking won’t really hurt me. Nothing bad is going to happen when I drive after having just a few drinks. We lie to others too. Oh sure, most of the fibs might be what we call “little white lies” but we still know they are wrong.

Whether it’s the obnoxiously unfiltered adults or the hilariously unfiltered children, maybe they are the normal ones. And we confuse their commitment to the truth as peculiar behavior, their odd dialect of truth as hard to comprehend. When in fact they are the ones who are in the right.

There’s just something refreshing about honesty. You see we adults have learned how to be good liars. We’ve also given it a name. We call it discretion. It’s a little something I tried to teach my 2-year-old the last time she patted my stomach and proclaimed, “Mommy’s belly jiggles.”

Sometimes I think it’s shame that we can’t all have that innocent honesty practiced by children. Think of the refreshing conversations with friends and relatives. Politicians would be able to talk about shortcomings openly. Corporations would identify their problems to the public and not when they are forced to do so as they testify before Congress.

Of course, we’d all be obligated to explain over and over again why our bellies jiggle, and that could get a little tedious. No one would have the grace to ignore those wrinkles that have started to creep in around our eyes. Someone might point out a bad hair day.

On second thought, perhaps there’s something to this lying -ahem, discretion – thing. I’m beginning to appreciate everyone who only sees me and thinks about my flaws and doesn’t actually say them out loud.

After all, I have a 2-year-old for that.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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