Building trust by telling the truth

As I listen to my daughter playing in her baby pool for the first time, with her Grammy watching over her, I feel so grateful for every experience we get have together.  And I can finally understand some parents’ almost pathological need to protect their children.

There are all sorts of dangers both seen and unseen in our world today and it can be overwhelming when we focus on what could go wrong.  A simple pool of water can become scary.  But sometimes we take the job of protecting our children too far.  By being honest with our kids, they may experience some pain, but they’re sure to fare better in life than they would otherwise.

When I talk with parents about being more honest with their children I hear all sorts of objections.  “Are you sure it’s appropriate to tell my child that?!” and “I don’t want to burden him with my feelings.”  But I think it’s a very slippery slope to withhold information from our children in order to “protect” them.  It actually seems to do just the opposite.  It hurts our kids when we don’t tell them the truth and they end up learning that they can’t count on us.

As a child, one of the things I admired most about my mom was how brutally, really, honest with me she was.  Granted, she didn’t offer a bunch of unsolicited information, but when I asked her a frank question, I knew I could count on her to answer honestly.

When I was five or six I asked my mom what the worst word in the world was.  And, after asking me to promise never to use it, she leaned down and whispered the “f word” into my ear.  I was shocked and in awe of my moms commitment to honesty.  And until I was a teenager, I never used it.  I was just curious, and I wanted to be prepared in case someone else used “bad words” in my presence.  Obviously it was a pivotal moment for me, considering I still remember it so vividly.

My mom was also very honest about sex, even when I was very young.  By the time I was 4 years old, I knew exactly where babies came from and I knew the scientific names of both male and female body parts.  As a teenager, talking to my mom about sex was easy because we’d already been talking about it for 10 years!  We had built a foundation of truth and trust that I knew I could rely on.

I’m so grateful for that foundation now, because as I got to know other girls and young women in my teens and twenties, I realized that my mom’s honesty was really quite rare.  Most of my friends’ moms had never talked with them about contraception or their monthly moon time, and as a result many of my friends were confused about the facts, unprepared to protect themselves from STDs and pregnancy, and several of them ended up with unwanted pregnancies.

I want my daughter to be informed and well prepared for life on her own.  So I think I’ll take my mom’s approach and be truthful with my child about her body, sex, and even my own feelings.  I want her to have that same foundation of trust and a deeply ingrained knowledge that no matter what, she can count on me to be honest with her.

I can only hope that by talking with her about challenging topics now, when she’s young, it will make it that much easier for us to talk about the tough stuff when she’s a teenager and young adult.

I’m curious, what’s your experience with being brutally honest with your children.  Have you seen benefits from being committed to the truth?  Have you experienced the pain of disconnection when you weren’t honest?  Please leave me a comment and share your story below.

Have a fantastic and vulnerably revealing week, Shelly


Andrea, That sounds like a great way to help your kids learn how to express and even celebrate their emotions. Nice one!

Dana, I agree it's important to make conscious choices about what we share and how we share it so that kids aren't expected to handle concerns they're not ready for. I think the boundary is very personal though, don't you? In fact, some kids could be ready to understand financial concerns, while others would feel overwhelmed with the same information. I think it's about knowing our kids and being honest while checking in to be sure they're not overloaded.

Pamela, I agree!


Honesty is the best policy. One can shorten the explanation and put things into words young children can understand. It is always better.


I am naturally very honest with my children, and this feels so good and right. I have a friend, a single mother with a daughter, who is apparently honest with her child, but withholds and protects her from most of the dark, difficult parts of modern humanity. I have been uncertain about this approach, and at times uncomfortable with it, particularly when I have felt censored in my full expression around them. But in recent months, I have been coming to a new understanding of where to actually hold back certain things from my children. For example, I have asked my husband to agree to "no yelling" in front of the children. Friends of ours have shared that they will no longer talk about money concerns in front of their children, and I agree that this was a healthy choice. While I am still committed to being honest and genuine in my expression, I am exploring the territory as well of rightful "protection" from concerns that need not concern these young ones.


I have shared with my kids that I need certain times to have "freaky moments". This is when I have a personal destressing fit that allows me to reduce stress. It can include a crazy dance or a little shout out. After I am finished with my "moment", I say "I am better now" and we can continue on what we were doing. The way I see it, sometimes I need to destress so that I can continue to be effective as a parent. I feel that I am showing that everyone gets stressed and feels overwhelmed and to step away from a situation, is totally OK.


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