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Tell your Kids the Truth: Islamic Parenting Principles

What’s a little white lie to my child to get her off my back for just a minute?

In a hadith narrated by Ibn Aamir, he says: “My mother called me once, whilst the Prophet (saw) was at our home and she said, ‘Come here, I will give you something.’ Thereupon the Prophet asked, ‘What did you want to give to him?’ She replied, ‘Dates.’ The Prophet then said, ‘Had you not given him anything, it would have been recorded as a lie.’”

We pride ourselves on a legacy and Sunnah based on the Prophet’s (saw) character of truthfulness. We take pride in giving back the extra change accidentally given to us by the store clerk. We take pride in owning up to our mistakes and not blaming them on our friends or coworkers. We take pride in boldly protesting against and writing strong words in the face of oppressive regimes and practices.

And yet while striving to uphold honesty in our lives, we lose track of the fact that it’s very easy to lie to our children in small (sometimes barely noticeable) ways. We think “small” lies don’t matter much, but just as we expect our children to be truthful to us, we should be as truthful to them as possible.

Do not lie to your child, even if you think your child is too young to really grasp the concept of truth vs. lies.

If you tell her that you will give her a treat, let her play with a certain toy, take her to the park, etc., make a concerted effort to follow through. If you tell her that she will face a certain punishment if she does something wrong, follow through. Even if it becomes inconvenient to fulfil the promise, do it. Even if your child completely forgets that you had promised her something in the first place, remind her that you did, and then be truthful about following through.

In addition to the many spiritual benefits of honesty, truthfulness to your child serves two purposes:

  1. You gain control of your tongue and become particularly careful about what you say and promise. Undoubtedly, this has far-reaching benefits.
  2. As your child grows older, she will know that you say what you mean, and mean what you say. If she has the experience of her parent telling her the truth at all times, she will trust that you will continue to do so as she grows and begins to ask you more about herself, her purpose and the world.

But truth-telling also extends beyond simply following through on stated rewards and punishments. A child should know without a doubt in her mind, that if she approaches her parents with a question, she will receive a truthful response. Even if that response is “I’ll answer your question when you’re a little bit older” or “I’m a little bit taken aback by your question, can I have some time to think about the answer?” or any similar honest response.

Along the way, we have somehow been convinced that there is a limit on what kinds of truths a child should know. If the family goldfish dies, the parent furtively replaces it while the child is at school, not wanting to broach the topic of death. If a child asks a question about sex, the parent looks around nervously and makes something up to distract the child from said question.

(Let’s not even approach the issue of Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, and all the other ridiculous and fictitious “facts” and characters we force our children to believe are real. And if we’re being honest: majority-Muslim cultures have similarly incorrect beliefs, “facts” and characters that we insist on teaching our children.)

Truth-telling in all its forms should be the absolute and normalized standard of every interaction in every relationship. Truth in a parent-child relationship is as necessary as unconditional love.

Children don’t absorb information simply as passive observers. Over time and based on the information they receive, they determine whether or not the people relaying that information are reliable and trustworthy.

Similarly, children model their behaviour after the adults in their lives. It is not a far-off assumption that whatever children observe, they will practice. That should be enough of a reason to strive to uphold truthfulness in all its forms.

The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “You must be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man will keep speaking the truth and striving to speak the truth until he will be recorded with Allah as a siddeeq (speaker of the truth). Beware of telling lies, for lying leads to immorality and immorality leads to Hellfire. A man will keep telling lies and striving to tell lies until he is recorded with Allah as a liar.”

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