Children have a difficult time discerning truth from fiction. They become confused when the adults they are supposed to respect and believe tell them things that are not true. When children are told that something they did was very good when it is not good, they tend to learn to accept mediocre work. When they are told there is a Santa or an Easter Bunny and later find out it is not true, they begin to wonder what else they have been fooled about. Children are vulnerable and when adults amuse themselves at the expense of a child, it is really unfair.
Many adults truly believe they are being kind to children to brag on them or compliment them for substandard performance. It is true that children need to be encouraged, but the encouragement should be truthful. Instead of telling children they did a wonderful job when they really didn’t, we need to select portions of the task to compliment. In this way a child is learning specifics in what is good, so they can repeat the good and eliminate the inferior.
There is almost always a part of a task that is good that can be mentioned. Not everyone can be a winner in everything. It is untruthful to lead children to believe that they are all superior and doing a wonderful job. We should not be as one school that canceled an honors program because they felt it would make the other children feel badly. It is wrong, also, to act as though everyone should be honored unless each person truly deserves it.
The myths of Santa and the Easter Bunny really insult the intelligence of children. Most children are smart enough to know better, but they think that it must be true because they are supposed to believe their parents. None of us want to rob children of the fun of Christmas and Easter. This creates a dilemma for adults who want to be truthful with their children but don’t want to have their children feeling left out because all the other children are hunting Easter eggs, etc.
My suggestion is to tell the children up front that Santa and the Easter Bunny are part of a game we play that really isn’t true. After telling the children the truth, simply suggest that we pretend they are real and go ahead and enjoy the fun. Children love to pretend and that is great as long as they can distinguish between what is real and what is not real. They will have just as much fun and yet feel more secure. Their minds will not be torn between knowing that what they are being told is impossible and feeling guilty for not believing their parents.
Many adults like to amuse themselves by tricking their children and laughing at them for believing what they are being told. This is taking unfair advantage of children who have been taught to respect and believe adults. Any form of teasing at the expense of a child is not a good thing. Children have very sensitive feelings and those feelings should be respected.
Old habits of teasing children may be hard to break. From the days of “snipe hunting” until now, tricks have been played on children because they are so easy to convince. We shouldn’t take advantage of their vulnerability to amuse ourselves. Doing so will cause children to have muddled ideas of good and bad as well as truth and untruthfulness. We can play pretend with the children and have just as much fun without confusing children.