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HEARTS of the CITY | Navigating the Real World

A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of philosophy, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

November 20, 1996|JOHN DART, Times staff writer

Today's question: When a child in your charge, either your daughter or a youngster you are caring for, is making a loud scene at a mall about wanting ice cream, is it OK to tell her, "We'll see," or "Maybe later," even though you have no intention of getting her ice cream?

Dr. Hassan Hathout

Director of outreach, Islamic Center of Southern California, and author of "Reading the Muslim Mind"

No! And a thousand times, no. Never lie to a child. They are extremely good at finding out, and then you risk losing the child's trust, perhaps forever. Besides, you are teaching her that lying is OK to get over a crisis. The truth should be spoken even against your own interests. However, the word "no" is a very serious word that should be used appropriately. Give a clear reason such as "No ice cream before meals," or "You had an ice cream an hour ago and that is enough." They should know that your restrictions are justifiable, and then stick to your guns and don't yield. They should also learn that crying or making a scene is not the way to fulfill wishes.

R. Patricia Walsh

Professor of psychology, Loyola Marymount University

It is generally a bad parenting strategy to tell outright lies to children because it undermines the basic trust between parent and child. That said, however, there may be times when it is OK to withhold the truth (as opposed to telling a lie) in order to calm a child. Saying, "We'll see," may be the only thing that will work with a young child. More ideal responses like, "You can't eat sweets whenever you want them," are better used with older children. "We'll see" is also less successful with older children. The last time I said this to my son, he replied, "You really mean 'no,' don't you?"

Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff

Rector and professor of philosophy, University of Judaism

Telling a child a lie undermines that child's sense of security and teaches dishonesty. If the girl is a baby, I would say "no," and leave. At an older age, I would say "no" along with a reason, such as, "It's too close to dinner," so that she ultimately learns to make mature, reasoned judgments herself. If the parent says, "We'll see," the child will probably continue the tantrum. On the other hand, if the parent says and means, "We'll see what time we finish our shopping," the child will learn appropriately that decisions sometimes depend on circumstances yet to be determined. As the child matures, she may learn that "We'll see" was a tactful way of noting her desire as her parents tried to avoid disturbing others--a lesson in public behavior she may now begin to appreciate.

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