How Much of The Truth Is Appropriate for a 10-Year-Old?
We are raising our grandchild. She’s 10. Her mom (my step-daughter) abandoned her at 3 yrs. We’ve had custody since & she’s like my own. Her dad is schizophrenic & drug addict. She says she misses him often even though he was in jail for the 1st half of her life & they really haven’t bonded. They don’t spend much time together. Never unsupervised. Anyway when he got out of prison, he had 2 more kids with another girl. My grand loves that she has siblings. She also knows why she cant live with him/them. We figd. those kids would probably be taken from them at some point and thats what happened. Her dad OD’d & they drug tested all of them. They both failed & CPS took the kids. They also had drugs in their systems. He is in a rehab now. Not sure about his girlfriend. They don’t live close to us. My grand was expecting to see them last week for her half sister’s first bday party. The paternal grandparents don’t want her to know about any of this, but I don’t want to lie to her. I want her to know she can trust us. I do know she’s better not knowing every detail but I feel she can handle a PG version of the truth. She’s been mature hearing other truths about her parents in the past. I really need some advice on what to do this time. Thank you!
A. Every child is different, and every circumstance surrounding the rearing of a child is also different. Her paternal grandparents don’t want her to know and probably for obvious reasons; they don’t want their son to look bad in the eyes of the child. They don’t want their grandchild to know. What we need to realize is that they are recommending that the child be lied to. Obviously, the child does not need to know all of the facts. There are facts that are too strong, too intense and beyond the proper assimilation of a child.
What is appropriate for a 10-year-old child? Do you tell this 10-year-old child that her dog ran away or do you tell this child the truth? Her dog was hit by a car and died. Surely, if you tell her the truth you will have dashed all hope of her being reunited with her dog. If you lie to her, she will likely spend endless hours searching for the dog, putting ads in the paper and online, taping flyers to telephone poles and store windows and imagining horrible scenarios of her lost dog suffering, lost without food and shelter. She will feel the need to rescue her dog. She will of course never rescue this dog because it is buried in the backyard. What have you accomplished?
There are bad things in life. There are painful things in life that we must all deal with. There is no sparing her from the unpleasantries of life. Your job is to prepare her for life, life without you. She must be strong enough to survive and to prosper in spite of the pain and obstacles that life will throw her way.
Though we all wish that children will find life to be one long walk through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, we know that our wish will never come true. Life has hardship and pain and it is our job to best equip children to deal with and survive the hardships that they will indeed encounter. We have failed them miserably if we have not prepared them for the difficulty and pain of living.
Also, remember that children hate to be lied to. If you lie to them, it proves to them that you cannot be trusted. Their peace and security is founded upon the fact that you can be trusted. If you lie to them you must hope that when that lie is revealed, with the passage of time, that they will forgive you and believe that “yes” you did indeed have a very valid reason for having lied to them. But that is not always the case.
Many children are very upset, with their parents, when they find out that their parents have lied about “Santa Claus.”
The dog did not run away. It was hit by a car and died. Having said that, there is no reason to extend the suffering of the child. Gruesome pictures of the dead animal and bloody recollections of the accident scene, are all unnecessary and serve no purpose other than to produce needless pain for the child.
No one knows your granddaughter better than you do. As you pointed out, in your letter, you believe that a PG version of the truth is warranted. I could not agree more. Good luck.
Dr. Kristina Randle
Randle, K. (2017). How Much of The Truth Is Appropriate for a 10-Year-Old?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 19, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2017/09/26/how-much-of-the-truth-is-appropriate-for-a-10-year-old/