Lying is a normal part of development
“We have this perception that [lying is] always a bad thing and always being done for selfish reasons,” says Moyer. “I think we have to recognize that some of the reasons that both kids lie and we lie – they’re actually very culturally acceptable.” Research shows that lying develops over the course of childhood and much of it is learned from the adults who surround a child. For example, “lies that are designed to protect other people,” like telling someone you loved their gift when you didn’t. “As adults, we are doing this all the time, and our kids are noticing it in ways that I think we may not recognize,” Moyer says.
You can explain the difference between different kinds of lying too: “Explain to them that lying for your own personal gain or to cover up a mistake you made is really not okay,” recommends Moyer.
Self-esteem is connected to longevity
When Moyer thinks of the foundation that will help kids live a long, healthy, and happy life she thinks of self-esteem. “If we can foster in our kids a feeling of self-efficacy and self-confidence and self-love, that can go a long way, both towards preventing some of the behaviors that can hurt kids and hurt their bodies, like addiction,” she explains.
Self-esteem often starts with kids feeling their parents’ unconditional love. “We sometimes put pressure on our kids to do well in school, to get the best grades, to achieve everything they can achieve because we’re worried about their future,” says Moyer. “But what I was surprised to learn was that sometimes the ways in which we press our kids to achieve, communicates to them that our love for them is contingent upon how they perform, and that is actually really detrimental to self-esteem.”
“The more that we can emphasize in our day-to-day lives… that they are loved, they’re worthy, and they don’t have to do anything to earn that love – that goes a long way to a happy and healthy life.”
Moyer gives the example of the book, The Runaway Bunny, which sends the message that parents will always love their child no matter what. “The more that we can emphasize in our day-to-day lives… that they are loved, they’re worthy, and they don’t have to do anything to earn that love – that goes a long way to a happy and healthy life,” she says.
Bullying can happen without kids realizing it
Parents usually worry about their kids being bullied, but “we need to be aware of the possibility that our kids can be perfectly kind at home, but, in school, where social situations are complex, they can engage in bullying behaviors,” says Moyer.
“One of the really surprising things I learned looking at the research, is that there are kids who engage in bullying who don’t actually recognize that what they’re doing is really hurtful,” explains Moyer. “They lack that theory of mind – that kids just don’t have the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes.” They may think they’re just engaging in harmless teasing and not realize that the other child is hurt.
“Any time we are correcting a child’s behavior or asking them to do something, we [should] try our best to connect that to other people.”
One way to help kids not engage in this behavior is a disciplinary technique called induction. “Any time we are correcting a child’s behavior or asking them to do something, we [should] try our best to connect that to other people,” Moyer explains. For example, if you’re asking your kids to pick up their Legos, say: “Please pick up your Legos, because otherwise, I’m going to step on one and it’s really going to hurt me.” By connecting their choices and actions with others, kids will begin to develop that theory of mind, reducing the chance that they’ll engage in bullying.
Dr. Fradin recommends developing emotional literacy through reading too. “Sometimes just taking a moment to identify the feelings of the characters – it can be so instructive for the children to enrich their vocabulary and to flex their empathy muscles.”
“The research on that is really compelling,” Moyer adds. Saying things like “What do you think this character is feeling right now? And what does that expression on his face mean?” is “directly linked with generous and helpful behavior.”
It’s never too early for difficult conversations
“The science says that there’s really no point that’s too early” for difficult conversations on topics like race and gender. “Kids are like little detectives,” Moyer explains. “From a very young age, they’re looking around and trying to figure out the world like, what are the social categories that matter? They will see these very salient hierarchies that exist in society, and one of them is racial hierarchy.”
Many parents believe that by not talking about skin color, their kids “won’t pay attention to it. They won’t become racist.” But by not talking about it, or shushing them if they ask a question about it, we are sending the message that this is not something we want them to talk about, that race is a negative thing. “If we don’t help them understand why the hierarchy exists, if we don’t explain to them in some way that racism exists – it’s existed for a long time, and it is responsible for this hierarchy you’re seeing – kids will start to make inferences,” says Moyer.
If your kid comments on someone’s skin color, you can use those moments to start the conversation. Say, “Yes, that woman does have much darker skin than we do, and isn’t that cool? Everybody has different skin colors.” You can talk about melanin and how skin color is connected to how much of this chemical your ancestors had, Moyer suggests. “Instead of pushing away these conversations, just welcome it, try to stay calm and talk about the topic in a way that invites your kids to talk to you about it more.”
“I think we put so much pressure on ourselves to say everything right and to know the right words to use. But these things will come up in a hundred tiny conversations for children to absorb over time. That takes the stakes down to a level we can accept more.”
Dr. Fradin agrees with taking a strategy of talking about hard topics over time: “I think we put so much pressure on ourselves to say everything right and to know the right words to use,” she says. “But these things will come up in a hundred tiny conversations for children to absorb over time. That takes the stakes down to a level we can accept more.” Moyer adds that if you think of a better way to frame something, you can even bring it up again later. “Those mistakes are another opportunity to keep talking about it,” she says.
For something like sexism, Dr. Fradin mentions having “difficulty bringing it up without feeling like I’m introducing the concepts.” But Moyer notes that this is another thing that kids are noticing even if we’re not aware. For example, “they see the different types of jobs that men have versus women.” By talking about it, “you might just be helping to frame it or give it context,” she explains.
One great way to start these conversations is when watching TV or reading books. Moyer gives the example of how a male announcer at the Olympics referred to the female athletes as girls. “I said, ‘That’s interesting. Do you think they refer to the male kayakers as boys?’ I think being tuned in and aware of when those things come up and using them as conversation starters can be really helpful.”
Dr. Fradin notices this a lot with body image and princess culture, seeing that girls in children’s books are often valued by how they dress or how pretty they are. “It’s helpful to bring up that that’s not all I noticed about this character on the page. I noticed that she’s being brave or she’s being a good friend, or I’m seeing other strengths from this child,” she says.
Kids get so many messages from the world. “I think it helps to put our voices in there in terms of helping kids know our values and our perspectives on these very tricky things,” says Moyer.
Next time, we’ll be talking about the gut-immune connection with author and physician, Dr. Emeran Mayer. Subscribe below.