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Just please don't tell the truth

We finally baptised the baby last week. Afterwards we had a big party back at the house. I was standing with two elderly aunts, watching Conor career around the room bumping into people.

One of the aunts says, "Conor is very high spirited, isn't he?"

"Yes," said the other. "A real livewire."

"Ha ha!" I said. "Yes, he's really full of life isn't he?" All of these phrases, are ways of saying: 'He's a destructive little effer isn't he?'

There are, of course, dozens of ways for tactful adults to let you know that your kid is no angel. If someone describes him as sensitive, he's a cry baby; confident, he's cocky. If anyone draws attention to your kid's 'refreshing honesty', he just insulted them.

This happened several times on Sunday. Mike, who's six, asked one of his aunts how she came by all the spots on her face. Someone else's bald spot came up for discussion.

You know you're in trouble if you're constantly apologising for your kids, telling everyone they're tired or hungry, even though everyone's just watched them stuff their little faces with chips and pizza for the past half hour.


But how do you teach them tact? Tact is a denial of the elephant in the room and kids love elephants.

Last Christmas, when Grandma gave Mike his present, he took one look at it and made no attempt to hide his disappointment. Grandma was not happy. There were mutterings about kids having everything these days, about their inability to appreciate anything.

I was telling this story to a friend of mine and she said she had an identical experience a few Christmases ago. The kid's negative reaction to Grandma's present caused such a stir in the house that the following year, the parents put a huge effort into prepping the kid ahead of receiving the present. The whole way up in the car, they were saying: "Now Bobby, when Grandma gives you her present, you're going to say you like it, okay? Even if you don't."

By the time they got to the house, the kid was a nervous wreck. When it came time to open the present, the entire extended family gathered round, waiting to see what would happen. He ripped off the paper and burst into tears.

"What is it, honey, what's wrong?"

"But Mammy I really like it."

Kids just aren't good liars -- or at least they're not good at sophisticated lies that are designed to save someone's feelings.

They will only lie if they think it'll get them out of a jam: 'She broke it', 'It wasn't me', 'it was that way when I found it'. But they'll learn in time.

Civil society is based on messing about with the truth: 'No, you're bum doesn't look big in that', 'I can't come to work, I'm sick', 'No, we won't shut that A&E unit'.

Yep, they'll learn.