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Should You be Lying to Your Kids About Santa?

SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR – DECEMBER 15: A man dressed up as a Santa Claus greets a girl during Christmas season on December 15, 2019 in San Salvador, El Salvador. (Photo by Camilo Freedman/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images)

Then my son was eight, he asked if Santa was real. I didn’t know what to say, so I dodged the question. Naturally, he sought answers from the place that never let him down: the World Wide Web. When I spied him searching “Is Santa real?” on the iPad, I gently took it from him and asked, “Why do you want to know so much?”

“Because I feel like you’re lying to me,” he said, trying to blink away tears. He was distraught. I was too, because what had seemed like a sweet tradition was suddenly threatening the trust my child had for me. So I told him the truth—that Dad and I were Santa, and that we were never trying to “lie” about it, but rather, just to carry on something we had enjoyed as kids. He was surprised that I told him, and a little sad. But mostly, he was relieved.

A couple of years later, when my daughter was eight and wanted the truth, I had this same conversation with her, and she had a similar reaction: a tinge of disappointment, but mostly relief. Both times, honesty about Santa felt wrong, right up until the moment it felt right.

For the past three years, I’ve been researching what it means to be more aware of our own honesty choices instead of only focusing on the dishonesty in the world around us. And while the man in the red suit is an honesty dilemma for many parents, I’ve learned that it’s probably not as important as the other honesty choices we make as parents.

Unlike belief in Santa—which is something children grow out of—dishonesty is something children grow into, says Robert Feldman, a University of Massachusetts psychology professor who has studied lying for many years. In having children and adolescents purposely tell lies to mislead, he found that first graders were unconvincing liars, seventh graders were pretty decent, but college students were experts.

Use this tool to find a monthly payment that works for you.The reason they grow into lying is that we parents show them how to with our own behavior. One University of California–San Diego study found that preschoolers and young elementary schoolchildren who had been lied to by an experimenter were more likely both to cheat (they peeked at something when they weren’t supposed to) and then to lie about whether or not they peeked.

You might be thinking this doesn’t apply to you. I thought the same, until the evening my daughter and I were buying birthday favors at Party City. When I told the cashier that I didn’t have an email address when she asked for one, my daughter gave me the side eye. That’s when I realized I was teaching her how to swat off annoyances with little lies. (I now simply say, in a pleasant voice, “I don’t want to give you an email right now.”)

We always think we need a story that justifies how we feel, says etiquette expert Lizzie Post, great-grandchild of etiquette queen Emily Post and co-president of the Emily Post Institute. When there is no significant story, she says, we stretch the truth. These are the little fibs related to flattery, saving face, or protecting ego, such as making up a story about why you aren’t attending a family function or gushing with a friend over their new car when in fact you hate it.

“We teach our children that honesty is the best policy, but we also tell them it’s polite to pretend they like a birthday gift they’ve been given,” Dr. Feldman says. We want to raise kind children and be kind ourselves, except for the times when honesty is more important . . . which is when exactly?

Honesty seems like such a basic concept. So why do we get all tangled up in it, not just in parenting, but also in social situations, at work, and inside our most intimate relationships? It’s a two part answer: (1) the actor-observer bias— whereby we notice other’s lies more easily than our own—keeps us thinking we are more honest than we are (until our kid calls our bluff) and (2) much of what we think and say about honesty is just flat out wrong.

We don’t like to admit that we rely on what behavioral scientists call prosocial lies, or the lies we tell for the benefit of someone else. “It’s so deeply engrained in us to think lying is always wrong,” says Emma Levine, assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, but her research has found that when you walk people through scenarios, they will agree that lying is sometimes the right thing to do.

I’ve noticed that I tend to use prosocial lies to build empathy, like if I see that someone is humiliated about a mistake, I might lie and tell them I made that same mistake when I haven’t. And you know what? I appreciate when someone does the same for me. On a trip last year, I tried to check into the wrong hotel (two sister hotels shared a parking garage) and felt like an idiot.

The valet attendant saw my embarrassment, and assured me he spent the majority of his day helping people who had tried to check into the wrong hotel. Did he really? Probably not. It was nice to hear though.

Prosocial lies may seem trivial, but these small moments can have a great deal of consequence in one-on-one relationships. On a reporting ride-along with a police officer last year, I noticed how patiently the officer listened to the story of a woman reporting a radio stolen from her truck. He handed her a card that assigned her a case number and told her how to work with the investigator. As we walked back to his cruiser, he asked me: “What do you think the chances of that case getting solved are?”

“Probably not very good?” I ventured.

“Pretty much zero,” he said.

“So, why bother with it then? I mean, I guess you have to, but if it’s just pointless, why not just be honest?”

“If she pursues it, we will, too. We’ll try. But in situations like this, people want to be heard. They want their story heard,” he said. “Most of what we do is just listen to people.”

Though we value people who “tell it like it is,” what this woman needed in that moment was to be listened to, more than she probably cared about recovering the radio. The next time she interacts with the police, it might be something more serious—like she could be a key witness in a case. He needs her to trust him, and the way to win her trust is through listening and caring.

Dr. Levine’s research supports the idea that prosocial lying can increase trust when someone has true insight into what the other person needs. Her research in healthcare settings has found that some patients prefer the brutal truth, while others want hope and optimism—but the doctor needs to know what the patient prefers, rather than imposing his or her own ideas about what’s best for the patient.

However, our prosocial lies go wrong when we let fear of the awkward conversation subsume what we know we should do. When an editor of mine was called out by another writer who told him that his style had become abrupt and condescending, he asked me if I felt the same way.

I did, but I froze, tried to skirt the issue, and ultimately said something like, “not really.” On the surface, it may seem kinder, but in fact, it’s cruel, because this person was asking for feedback. I wound up contacting him the next day, fessed up that I was frustrated with him, and we had a thoughtful and helpful conversation.

While that vulnerability isn’t easy, we tend to fear it more than we need to. In a study, Dr. Levine and Taya Cohen, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, asked people to be completely honest in their dealings with others for three days.

While people predicted that it would ruin their relationships and cause hurt and pain, quite the opposite was true. “They found so much meaning in being honest,” Dr. Cohen says. This is probably why my conversations with my kids around Santa wound up feeling so meaningful, versus ruinous, and why honesty also improved my relationship with that editor.

The biggest thing about honesty we get wrong is missing the opportunity inside conversations with our children about why we lie. Explaining the Santa lie wasn’t that complicated for me, because Santa ultimately belongs in the category of mythology. I’ve learned far more from other unexpected conversations—like when, on the way to a well visit with the pediatrician, my son said, “I’m going to be honest if the doctor asks about screens. You always lie.”

My first response was rising anger, but then I realized this was an opportunity. “You’re right,” I said. “I do tend to lie about it. I shouldn’t. But do you know why I lie?”

“Because it’s bad that I use the iPad so much.”

“It’s not bad. It’s just that doctors think kids watch screens too much, and they’re right. But I don’t always follow what they say. We shouldn’t lie to doctors about things to do with health, though.”

“But you do,” he said.

“I do,” I said. “Because a little part of me feels ashamed that I should be a better mom. I often feel like people are saying I’m not a good mom if I do certain things or don’t do certain things. I feel judged. Do you ever feel that way?”

“Yeah, about my behavior. I’m bad sometimes and I know it.”

What a golden moment to talk about the difference between how we act and who we are, and about the nature of shame and how it so often clouds our choices when it comes to honesty.

By opening up to my kids about my own struggles, I’ve not only learned things about myself that have helped me in my career and my relationships, I’ve also shown them that honesty is a dynamic concept that takes vulnerability, courage, and discernment—excellent life skills to have long after thoughts of flying reindeer have passed.

By Judi Ketteler December 20, 2019

Source: Should You be Lying to Your Kids About Santa?

96.3K subscribers
Has your child been lying to you lately? If so, it might not be as big of a problem as you think. In this episode of Mom Docs, Dr. Dehra Harris, a Pediatric Psychiatrist with Washington University at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, shares some insight on why children lie and what you can do about it. If your child has been lying to you, it’s important to take the age of the child into consideration. In young children, lying marks the beginning of imagination, which is a normal developmental stage. Your child’s lying only becomes a problem when it’s part of a persistent pattern. If your situation involves your child lying often, try these tactics: Approach your child and, without getting emotional, present the information you know to be true. For example, if your child took money off the countertop, you can say, “There is money missing from the counter top. I need you to help me figure this out.” This approach leaves room for two different outcomes: #1. Your child lets you know what happened and they explain their story. #2. You inform them that you know what happened and they do not admit they lied. While both of these situations deserve a consequence, the second should be greater. Repeating this method when your child lies can help put the problem behind you. Visit Children’s MomDocs (a blog by mom physicians at St Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine): http://bit.ly/2fCVkzp Learn more about St. Louis Children’s Hospital – Find a Physician, Get Directions, Request an Appointment, See current ER Wait Times http://bit.ly/2g56onQ Want to hear more from St. Louis Children’s Hospital? Subscribe to the St Louis Children’s Hospital YouTube Channel: http://bit.ly/2cC0jgg Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stlchildrens Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/STLChildrens Learn More About Donating on YouTube: https://support.google.com/youtube/? The St. Louis Children’s Hospital YouTube channel is intended as a reference and information source only. If you suspect you have a health problem, you should seek immediate care with the appropriate health care professionals. The information in this web site is not a substitute for professional care, and must not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. For help finding a doctor, St. Louis Children’s Hospital Answer Line may be of assistance at 314.454.KIDS (5437). The opinions expressed in these videos are those of the individual writers, not necessarily St. Louis Children’s Hospital or Washington University School of Medicine. BJC HealthCare and Washington University School of Medicine assume no liability for the information contained in this website or for its use.

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Memory & Attention Difficulties are Often Part of a Normal Life

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From young adults to people in their 60s, everyday functioning in today’s world can place high demands on our attention and memory skills.

Memory lapses such as forgetting an appointment, losing our keys, forgetting a distant relative’s name or not remembering why you opened the fridge can leave us believing our thinking skills are impaired.

But you might be too hard on yourself. Tiredness, stress and worry, and feeling down or depressed are all common reasons adults experience attention and memory difficulties.


Read more: What is ‘cognitive reserve’? How we can protect our brains from memory loss and dementia


Attention and memory systems

Attention and memory skills are closely connected. Whether we can learn and remember something partly depends on our ability to concentrate on the information at the time.

It also depends on our ability to focus our attention on retrieving that information when it’s being recalled at a later time.

This attention system, which is so important for successful memory function, has a limited capacity – we can only make sense of, and learn, a limited amount of information in any given moment.

Being able to learn, and later successfully remember something, also depends on our memory system, which stores the information.

Changes in attention and memory skills

In people who are ageing normally, both attention and memory systems gradually decline. This decline starts in our early 20s and continues slowly until our 60s, when it tends to speed up.

During normal ageing, the number of connections between brain cells slowly reduce and some areas of the brain progressively work less efficiently. These changes particularly occur in the areas of the brain that are important for memory and attention systems.

This normal ageing decline is different from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which cause progressive changes in thinking skills, emotions and behaviour that are not typical of the normal ageing process. Dementia comes from a group of diseases that affect brain tissue and cause abnormal changes in the way the brain works.


Read more: Why people with dementia don’t all behave the same


If you’re concerned your memory difficulties may be a symptom of dementia, talk to your GP, who can refer you to a specialist, if needed, to determine whether these changes are due to normal ageing, dementia or some other cause.

If you experience persistent changes in your thinking skills, which are clearly greater than your friends and acquaintances who are of a similar age and in similar life circumstances, see your GP.

Normal attention and memory difficulties

Broadly, there are two main reasons healthy adults experience difficulties with their memory and/or attention: highly demanding lives and normal age-related changes.

A person can be consistently using their attention and memory skills at high levels without sufficient mental relaxation time and/or sleep to keep their brain working at its best.

Young adults who are working, studying and then consistently using attention-demanding devices as “relaxation” techniques, such as computer games and social media interaction, fall into this group.

Adults juggling the demands of work or study, family and social requirements also fall into this group.

Most adults need around seven to nine hours of sleep per night for their brain to work at its best, with older adults needing seven to eight hours.

Most of us need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

The second common reason is a combination of ageing-related brain changes and highly demanding work requirements.

For people in jobs that place a high load on thinking skills, the thinking changes that occur with normal ageing can become noticeable at some point around 55 to 70 years of age. It’s around this time age-related changes in the ability to carry out complex thinking tasks become large enough to be noticeable. People who are retired or don’t have the same mentally demanding jobs generally experience the same changes, but may not notice them as much.

This is also the age many people become more aware of the potential risk of dementia. Consequently, these normal changes can result in high levels of stress and concern, which can result in a person experiencing even greater difficulties day to day.

Emotional distress can take its toll

Feeling down and sad can affect memory and concentration. When a person is feeling worried and/or down regularly, they may become consumed by their thoughts.

It’s important to recognise how you’re feeling, to make changes or seek help if needed. But thinking a lot about how you’re feeling can also take a person’s attention away from the task at hand and make it difficult for them to concentrate on what is happening, or remember it clearly in the future.

So feeling worried or down can make it seem there is something wrong with their memory and concentration.

Boosting your attention and memory skills

There are a number of things that can be done to help your day-to-day memory and attention skills.

First, it’s important to properly rest your mind on a regular basis. This involves routinely doing something you enjoy that doesn’t demand high levels of attention or memory, such as exercising, reading for pleasure, walking the dog, listening to music, relaxed socialising with friends, and so on.

Playing computer games, or having a lengthy and focused session on social media, requires high levels of attention and other thinking skills, so these are not good mental relaxation techniques when you are already mentally tired.


Read more: Why two people see the same thing but have different memories


It’s also important to get enough sleep, so you are not consistently tired – undertaking exercise on a regular basis often helps with getting good quality sleep, as does keeping alcohol consumption within recommended limits.

Looking after your mental health is also important. Noticing how you are feeling and getting support (social and/or professional) during longer periods of high stress or lowered mood will help ensure these things are not affecting your memory or concentration.

Finally, be fair to yourself if you notice difficulties with your thinking. Are the changes you notice any different to those of other people your own age and in similar circumstances, or are you comparing yourself to someone younger or with less demands in their life?

If you have ongoing concerns about your attention and memory, speak with your GP, who can refer you to a specialist, such as a clinical neuropsychologist, if needed.

Senior Lecturer in Clinical Neuropsychology, University of Melbourne

 

Source: Memory and attention difficulties are often part of a normal life

Play Brain Games to Help Your Child Learn to Read – Judy Willis

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Reading is not a natural process for the human brain.We are born with the brain architecture ready for development of successful verbal communication, but without any blueprint guiding recognition of the printed word. Neuroimaging scans show that multiple brain regions activate during the reading process without any one isolated reading center.

The human brain is a pattern-building and detecting mechanism. Seeking patterns is the brain’s way of making sense of new information and experiences. We identify new things based on their similarities and relationships to things we already know. The development of literacy takes place in the same way all memories are constructed in the brain – by relating the new to the known.

The brain stores our learned information in long-term memory neural circuits based on commonalities or relationships. If a child had never seen a hat of any kind on a person (real or in pictures) and she is given a doll with various items of clothing, she would not know to place the hat on the doll’s head.

Memory patterns of stored related information become stronger the more frequently information they hold is recalled, used, or reviewed in a way that reinforces the relationships among the data in the memory circuit. For memory of letters and words to build, the brain must continue to link new information with related patterns that already exist in memory storage. For reading to become an acquired skill, there must be a gradual buildup of memories where new information is experienced together with related existing knowledge.

This is why children need skills of patterning and pattern recognition to develop literacy. Their patterning skills are what will allow their brains to connect letters with sounds and words with meanings. Helping young children build their patterning skills supports their future ability to recognize and remember the patterns found in letters, words, and sentence structures.

Here are some brain games you can play with your child to help boost his reading ability through recognizing, playing with, and creating patterns:

  1. Draw attention to patterns in art, nature, and daily recurrent occurrences. You can help your child build pattern recognition skills by playing “color detective” as you are out together. Have your child say “red” each time he sees a red car. Then ask him to be on the lookout for another color. You can also play “shape hunt” together, and ask your child to lead you around the house and point to all things that are circle-shaped (or square, etc.).
  2. Ask your child to categorize and sort items. The patterning skills needed for reading are further extended when your child’s brain can associate the unknown with a pattern into which it could fit. This pattern matching is what takes place when the brain predicts (based on existing memory patterns) the sound of an unfamiliar letter or the meaning of an unknown word. To work on this skill with your child, get her to sort objects into obvious categories, such as a collection of pictures or small plastic animals or vehicles, and give names to each group. (Verbalizing the name she selects for a category increases the brain’s awareness of the pattern. Ask your child why she chose the category name or what information she used when sorting items the way she did.) When she is pro?cient with this, she can move on to more subtle items to categorize. For example, make a map of the rooms of the house and place it on a table or the floor, and ask her to bring items specific to each room, and place each item in the appropriate room on the map.
  3. Look for similarities and differences between objects and photos. When your child has mastered large pattern similarities and differences such as red toys and black toys, try engaging in the following activity. While driving in the car or taking a walk together, ask him to point to cars that have four doors and those that have two or houses with flat roofs and pointy roofs. Or if you are at home, find two photographs of your child taken about a year apart and have him tell you about all the details he finds in each of them. Ask him which picture was taken when he was older and how he can tell. This game becomes more complex and expands comparison-and-contrast aspects of pattern recognition when you encourage your child to tell you other similarities and differences he notices: between two cars, houses, leaves, dogs, family photos, or photos of him at different ages.
  4. Play games of “What doesn’t belong?” This will prepare your child to identify how words and letters have shared characteristics that can be used to identify new words by seeking commonalities. Group together three items, like coins, and include one that does not belong, and ask your child to guess which one is not the same as the others. Once she masters this, create increasingly complex groupings where the “different” item is subtler in its differences (pennies with all heads up except one with tail side up). You can then move on to identification of the patterns of sequences. Line up a penny-penny-dime, penny-penny-dime, and penny-penny-dime sequence. Ask your child to choose the next coin that would fit with the pattern you set up. This builds both patterning skills for reading and sequencing skills for number sense, the basis for learning arithmetic.
  5. Try pattern matching. Pattern matching is how children connect specific letters and groups of letters with associated sounds. An example is by seeing the letter “m” and based on past experiences associating that letter with the “mmm” sound, your child is able to retrieve the memory of that sound. This “phonemic awareness” requires the brain to repeatedly experience the sound and letter together. The more frequently children are aware of this relationship between sound and letter, the more easily their brains will retrieve the correct sound to match with the letter in new words – until it becomes automatic. Children who have trouble with written symbols may learn more readily from hearing patterns emphasized in speech. You can help build these memory pathways to recognize patterns by emphasizing repeating letters, words, and sentences with changes in your voice pitch, speed, or volume emphasis as you read together with your child. If the word in the book is “hibernate” you would read and point to the “hi” and “bern” the point to the “ate”. Then have him do the same and find words with the familiar letter combinations.

Learning to read is critical for all academic success, but it is often an intimidating struggle for children. As your children’s patterning partner, you’ll be their guide to the wonderful worlds they can reach through books traveling over the rainbow and deep into the center of the earth. Your guidance will light the way and the books they enjoy when young will ignite their joy as lifelong readers.

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