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This week I began to teach Simon an important life lesson: When to deploy vagueness or the white lie in conversation. The need arose when one of Simon’s friends, Griffen, complimented him on a play-date.

“Simon, you’re my best friend!” Griffen happily declared.

“You are in my top 3,” Simon replied, which I suspect was not the desired answer.

Just a few days later, towards the beginning of a sleep-over, I overheard Simon say the following to his friend Rhys:

“You are my second-best friend.”

How touching! I cringed and could not understand why my normally sweet and empathetic child was being so tone deaf. Then it occurred to me: This all derives from Simon’s obsessive need to order, quantify, and rank things. It’s never enough for a team to be “great” or “one of the best in the world” for Simon. He has to know absolutely where they rank.

The same goes for tall people, where we’ve discussed the tallest in his school, our city, and the world. Or speed, where we’ve had to learn which car has gone the fastest and how fast that is. Ditto tallest building, shortest person, longest-lived animal, fastest animal, points and goal differential for major soccer teams, and any other thing you can think of that has—or could have—a number attached to it.

The great beauty of this brain is that Simon has a natural and fluent facility with numbers. He’s about 1/2 way through memorizing his multiplication tables, can handle negative and positive numbers, and enjoys learning about squares, square roots, and factorials. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be a major math geek, and I mean that in a good way.

The not-so-beautiful thing about this brain is that he can get hung up on details to the point of annoyance (mine) and exhaustion (mine again), and that sometimes it can make him less than sensitive to his friends. Thus his compulsion to rank his friends. Thus my little chat with him about how you don’t always have to be strictly honest with people if doing so will hurt their feelings.*

I coached him about how say things like “You’re one of my best friends” or “I have a few best friends, and you are one of them” if he’s asked. Along the same lines, we’ve also discussed how to answer questions about school-work, where things are getting stickier by the day. Some of the higher-achieving kids are getting pretty competitive with each other about things like reading levels and number of math facts memorized. Meanwhile, some of the other kids have begun making comments to Simon about his grades, math skills, or general academic ability.

Here, my strategy is to get Simon to deflect and re-direct. I don’t want him spitting out his scores and rankings on various tests or online programs. I’d rather he learn to give a non-answer and then either praise the high-achieving kid for his or her own progress or encourage the less-high-achieving that he or she will get there in their own time.

Talk about verbal jujitsu! I really do know that this is too much to expect of a child Simon’s age. But if we don’t practice, he’ll never get there, and I do not want an obnoxious, braggart of a son. Nor do I want a son who is academically advanced but socially deficient. And honestly, I’d rather not have a child who is hung up on the wrong kind of numbers in the first place, because it can inhibit trying new things and only tells a small part of anyone’s story.

That last bit is going to be a tough sell for Simon. How can numbers not hold ultimate truth? So until we can have meaningful discussions about things like motivation, test bias, and un-quantifiable attributes, I’m sticking with dodging the question and lying when necessary.



One Response to “Honesty is (not always) the Best Policy”

  1. blg says:

    Wow, what a lot to juggle! Let us know how this works. The burdens of maturity.

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