“Papa, how will I know what is right?”

The Episode

It started as a regular workshop with parents at a local school. We spoke, took questions, discussed strategies for handling situations, about shyness, morality, relationships, about sibling rivalry, about aggression; the usual range of concerns parents have. Towards the end of the morning an older gentleman in the audience raised his hand to speak. Between him and his wife, there was a young child, evidently their grandson. “I raised my hand not to ask a question, but to share something”, he said. Lifting himself off the chair, he walked up to face the audience, clutching the mike close. He didn’t seem terribly comfortable with the task of public speaking. This is the substance of his speech:

“I want to share something from long ago. We have two sons. When my boys were quite young, one night, we were walking the street after dinner when one of them looked up to me and asked: ‘Papa, sometimes you scold us, sometimes you say ‘no’. Sometimes you encourage us and often you give advice. When I grow up and you are not with me, how will I know when I am right and when not?’ For a moment I was taken aback by the question. What was I to say? How do I answer my son? I knew one thing, I HAD TO answer him, and that the answer would have long-term consequences. As parents, sometimes we just know such moments.


From somewhere, I don’t know where, I found my words. What I said to him is what I want to share with you all today”, he said. “I said to him, ‘Son, if what you are doing can be shared openly with others, then you are right. If it is something that you have to hide from other people, then it is likely to be wrong. This is a simple thing that you should remember. If you don’t have to hide it from anyone, if there is nothing to fear, and you will be on the right track. If you have reason to hide, and are afraid that others will get to know, there is probably something wrong in your choice’. This has worked for my children who are now grown men and have lovely families of their own, and my grandson is with me today. We are a happy family today and share open and loving relationships. I have no idea how I came up with the answer, but I knew that it was the right one, and time has proved that.”

His wife, the grandmother got up to add “One day, when the boys were small, they and their friends were playing cricket on the road outside our home and broke the windscreen of a car parked on the street. All the other kids ran away, and my boys came to me and confessed. Those days, a single pane would have cost us much more than we could afford. So when the angry owners came to ask for damages, I said to them, we don’t have the money, but here are the boys who did it. Take them and make them work every day to clean the car. When the money is recovered, you can free them from this task.” I said. “You see, my children never hid anything from us, this is how we brought them up. For a few days they were made to clean the car, after which the owners let them go.”

For a while there was dead silence in the packed hall. Then, as if taking a moment for the message to sink in, the burst of applause filled the room as the old man haltingly returned to take his seat beside his wife. The simplicity and clarity of their words was humbling, and it was a privilege to have been there.

The Commentary


Young children have minds of their own, and they also learn so much from us. At an early age, ownership, affiliations, prejudice, loyalty, superiority, power, truth, none of these intentions enter children’s minds. They confront the world at face value, and hurting others, hiding things, or taking what belongs to someone else are simple experiments with the world, and do not carry the meaning and intentions that they do for grown-ups. Yet, it is from these innocent explorations that intentional acts emerge. When people deliberately subjugate, humiliate, hurt, steal from, or lie about others, many of these actions have origins in how early experimentation was handled; and naïve maneuverings can become transformed into malicious acts. As research has shown, the ethics of conduct is a valuation that we gather from our surroundings. We have the choice to oppose, ignore or even encourage children to be mean and manipulative towards others. Fortunately or unfortunately, that is the power of being parent, and that is our collective responsibility. We need to be alert to moments of potential gravitas, something that the gentleman in our story handled with spontaneous, dignified wisdom. There is no denying that we are key players in the development of ethics in our children. In this, we have a choice!


  1. Loved your first post! Though not a parent, but being in a profession that involves dealing with little souls everyday, the most challenging task is to answer their tricky questions the right way!

    Good luck 🙂


  2. Loved reading it!! Looking forward to more readings. My 1 year old looks at the mobile phone and before she reaches out to pick it up, looks at me and waves her hand saying no-no!!! Each day is a joy and sometimes a big surprise to see the way they respond to things.
    Super initiative 😊


  3. Very relevant and well articulated advice in such simple words. And it is likely to work in all situations. Thanks for sharing!
    Can you indicate by what age children generally begin to engage in ‘intentional acts’ or start understanding this concept of hiding or telling lies. Thanks


    1. Well, according to Piaget, tertiary circular reactions marks the onset of intentionality! That is just around the time the child turns 2! That is perhaps the reason behind all the self assertion that takes place during that phase…..what is known as the terrible twos. With awareness of the self, intention and capacity for disagreement, this become a poerful stage, The concept of hiding, making a false statement comes a bit later……..In order to hide something, you first have to have the knowledge that the other person has a mind that too has a limited capacity of not knowing that (for instance) I have eaten that chocolate. Pooja’s Ph. D. had some important things to say in this regard. I will share some readings with you regarding this. 🙂


    2. Hi Ira! Thanks for the lovely comment. To further answer your question- Several researchers indicate that the concept of lies develops between the age of 2 and 3 although its very rudimentary. Intentional acts can be looked from several theoretical paradigms. Theory of Mind being one of them. According to this school of thought children between the ages of 3 and 4 start understanding others intentions and thereby shaping their own. My research pointed to the fact that the age is just an indicative to this development, several cultural factors play a significant role in shaping children’s ‘intentional acts’ for example how they are talked to and what are their roles in the family.
      Some more links for you to explore:
      This was the article published here is UAE
      Keep writing in!!


    3. Enjoying the discussions…. Two years is when children start understanding that other people have minds. In the language of research, they develop ‘a theory of mind’. Children are quick to understand what parents may like, disapprove of, get amused by and even be a bit fooled by! This is when they start using their ‘intention’ to play upon that of others. It is fun, it is creative. Often people advise us to not see these acts of intentional playing with facts as lies. They tell us it is the child’s fertile imagination at work. This is very sound. Most children learn over time to present facts and use imagination, while maintaining the distinction between the two and using both as compelled by the situation. Lying as a behavior also develops over time. It has certain characteristics (that are described clinically), it is accepted differently by individuals, families and cultures. It can be linked with abstraction, with morality, with pathology…However, when a child talks there is always a story to learn about 🙂


  4. loved your blog for sure. my child does argue with me , and not obey me at times, and for me this is a process of furthering a mind that is widening its horizons ….. give it ‘wings’, do not crop them.


  5. Ita really simple nd worth reading to understand the perspective of parent to look the things from his child’perspective.. Being child development professional i know the thoeries nd cause and effect related to child development, but still find it difficult to articulate the logical answer in this form.
    As we grow old life makes things more critical and complicated but for a child we have to make it simple but critical which lay down the foundation for him for later years of life..


  6. Hi Moms ,
    A lot of thoughts have been put together to start this meaningful page , a big congratulations and besties for that !
    I am an educator by profession in Auckland, and we strongly believe that Parents are the first educator in their children’s life . We often come across similar situations and we play an important role model to them unknowingly. It’s an amazing world of Little people, so much to learn from their innocence. Looking forward for more stories.


  7. A great piece of writing and commentary. Keep up the great work and I look forward to more write ups which I can enjoy over my cuppa-chai. 🙂


  8. That was a lovely read….!!!with a 2.5 yr old toddler I would definitely be stopping by frequently to observe, learn n maybe implement experimental or standardised ways of handling our tiny toddlers during specific situations or in general……….best wishes to this team….!!!


  9. A lovely read I do remember this one and was similarly touched. A great start for the blog. I remember a conversation with my daughter when she was a little older and it was similar. She had asked me how would I know if something I was doing was right or wrong? I remember thinking and saying that if you ate comfortable sharing it with us then it passes the test. All you have to do is remember that. This just brought that home.
    Thanks for expressing it so beautifully!


  10. Loved the name of your blog – so delicious! And a delightful post as well 🙂
    Interestingly I adopted a similar parameter while growing up – in any dicey situation, I imagined what my parent would do, if I wasn’t comfortable imagining my parent in a similar situation, I knew I need to take make a ‘wiser’ decision.


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