Honesty with our Kids post Election: A Conversation with Rosalind Wiseman

12/02/2016 04:11 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2017

Honesty with our Kids post Election: A Conversation with Rosalind Wiseman
By Carol Smaldino

When adults help little children feel enough safety and trust in the world early on, they are teaching children that their own perceptions and needs make sense. They are teaching children that the outside world is reliable but also that their awareness is reliable as well.

In the best of hypotheses, children can grow to make an impact on their family and thus be a true part of their family community. At school, the same, optimally what they notice will be important and make a difference. Going further, they can co-author solutions both at home and outside the home.

I have thought for a long time now, and seen this in my therapy practice, that when kids see something that isn't working in their family, they go underground, hiding their feelings and perceptions. Or they become cranky and disruptive-- carrying a festering awareness they don't understand or know what to do with. Or they stop recognizing their own perceptions: they either give up or fake accommodation.

We need to remember how crucial it is for us to make space for what our children experience. Sometimes external life circumstances are very difficult but still there are some people listening, validating, caring, and trying to do something about it. And this can make a big difference to how things turn out.

Bullying is not new, nor was it invented in the Election of 2016. But some things are so stark for those of us looking, that they make it obvious that the degree of lies, hostility, have reached incredibly public and national proportions.

When I read on line that Rosalind Wiseman was going across the country helping kids and adults communicate in the era post Trump about what they had seen and felt, I contacted her to ask her for an interview, which she graciously agreed to. Many people know Rosalind as the author of "Queen Bees and Wanna Bees" (2003, paperback 2009, 2016), a star among books written back when bullying was grabbing national attention. Even then, however, as far as I could see the words "zero tolerance" and "when you see something say something" were slogans that didn't hold up. In addition most of the attention during that time was given to white children in white schools.

Now Wiseman is looking at the issues affecting all children, and all adults as well--the impact of what they are seeing in adults--and the hypocrisy we are showing them. Her antidote consists of honesty and respect and partnership. She is already seeing the dangers of children worrying about deportation--theirs or their relatives--and an increase in prejudice and fear. Again, the signal for hope here lies in her complete respect for honesty, to and from children and with all the adults involved as well.

She says, "For the most part we have dishonest conversations, as if solutions are simple. And that was BEFORE the Election. Adults have always been hypocritical, holding kids to standards they don't hold themselves to."
In other words, we tell our kids to cooperate, to be polite, to say please, and not to lie. We don't want them lying to us, but is it okay if our public life is based on lies and appearances? What do we say to them if they ask us about it? Or do we just let them watch us, and our leaders on television, as they insult people and yes, lie? Meanwhile it seems to me that we are also looking at many adults who have blocked out the fact and implications of lying with no compunction, to the point that it is becoming second nature.

Wiseman comments on the "lessons" of the Presidential Election in points that strike me as undeniable. She spells it out, "Kids are learning many things:
Winning is more important than conducting yourself ethically.
Adults dismiss young people's experiences that make adults' uncomfortable.
Adults lecture young people about standing up to bullying but aren't willing to do it themselves.

None of the above is all that hopeful, except that Wiseman is offering a menu of services, in a new curriculum called Owning Up: Empowering Adoescents to Confront Bullying, Social Cruelty and Injustice (owningup.online) and she is bringing her work and her intention to co-author curriculum with students and teachers. She is, with her partners, offering services to all manner of people and schools, not just rich and not just white, by any means. She is in the meantime helping students engaged in student government find ways they can be more inclusive.

Wiseman is doing none of the above by lying her way through any of what is going on. Her clear message is that honesty is one of the transforming elements of all that she is doing. It also is that validating element that can bring kids alive, even perhaps the kids who are sleeping through the seemingly irrelevant versions of coursework they are forced to endure. They are taught about how everything is so perfect while they are living and seeing a very different set of pictures.


Wiseman adds, "It is the adults' responsibilities to have honest conversations about what is going on in our world.
When we are overwhelmed by confusion, we can revert to autocratic ways of being." In order for us as adults to face up to the observations of our kids, we will need help to occupy uneasy spaces where we admit that our world is becoming filled with winning at any cost.
And then we will have to face the challenges of whether and how we would want to change that.

I've thought for a while that many adults also hunger for more truth in their lives, that they/we are exhausted from all the attempts to measure up. This is one possible source of change and of hope.