Most children, most of the time, tell the truth about their thoughts and their feelings.  They have no intention of lying or hiding anything from us.  
Yet they sometimes give us incomplete information about what they are feeling.  It’s the same thing we do to them, and to each other.  We reveal only some of our feelings, we tell a half-truth rather than disclosing the feelings that put us at risk of becoming vulnerable.
Vulnerable to what?  Vulnerable to criticism and to attack.
Here’s an example I’ve shared that many people say they can relate to:
Reuven was driving south in the left lane of Ocean Parkway approaching Avenue J when suddenly a car cut across him from the center lane to enter the left turn lane.  They both had to stop at the light at Avenue J.  Reuven lowered his window and disclosed his feelings to the driver in the turning lane to his left.
Reuven didn’t say anything that would be unfit for this family newspaper.  What he said was, “WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU!  GET SOME SAICHEL!”  He didn’t directly disclose any feelings, but his words clearly revealed his anger.  
What he didn’t reveal, directly or indirectly, was the other feeling he had experienced as a result of being cut off.  The first feeling Reuven experienced was not anger; it was fear.  He was afraid that the car crossing his path was so close he was going to collide with it, chas v’shalom, and he, his children, and his wife in the passenger seat closest to the oncoming car, could be hurt.
Can you picture Reuven pulling up along side of the offender, lowering his window, and calling out, “You really scared me.”  
I can’t imagine it, either.  But it would be the other half of the truth, the other feeling that Reuven experienced.   
We can’t imagine anyone disclosing that to a stranger who had cut him off.  Disclosing fear leaves most people feeling vulnerable to attack, to being taken advantage of because they’re seen as weak.  But how could that have happened to Reuven, what was he concerned about?  The driver who had cut him off was waiting to make a left turn, Reuven was continuing straight.  What was the risk of being attacked or taken advantage of?  Did Reuven think this driver would remember him and victimize him again if he seemed weak?  No, Reuven didn’t think any of that might happen.  He wasn’t thinking about this aggressive driver at all.  He was thinking about himself.  He was unconsciously protecting himself from thinking he is weak and vulnerable.  He was following the social norm that condones the public expression of anger and discourages “wearing your emotions on your sleeve.”
The half-truth of anger is fit for public consumption, the other half, the fear, mustn’t be worn on the sleeve.  We’ve accepted this idea and we model it for our children.
I don’t expect Reuven to disclose his fear to a stranger who cut him off.  
I would like him to tell his children the whole truth of what he felt when he was cut off.   I’d like him to ask his children what else they think about and feel when they get angry.  
Then, having addressed this kind of half-truth, I’d like him to talk with them about a common kind of lie.
Reuven: I can’t tell my children about a common kind of lie, they might think it’s okay to lie that way because it’s commonly done.
Me: That’s exactly the type of lie I’m referring to.
Reuven: What do you mean? What’s the type of lie you’re referring to?
Me:  I’m referring to the common use of the word “can’t” when it isn’t true, it’s a lie.
Reuven didn’t mean to lie to me when he said, “I can’t tell my children about a common lie.”  It’s not a deliberate lie, but it’s certainly not the truth.  He is capable of telling his children about a common lie, it’s not something he cannot do.  It is something he would prefer not to do, it may be something he is very reluctant to do, it might even be something he’s afraid to do, but it’s definitely something he’s capable of doing, not something he “can’t” do.
Esti lied to her daughter the same way.  When she told her she could not give her a cookie because they would be having supper in 20 minutes she did not intend to lie to her but she didn’t tell her the truth.  The truth is that Esti was not willing to give her a cookie. She could have had she wanted to.  
When you don’t want to do something, say so.  Don’t hide behind “can’t.”   You don’t like it when your child hides behind “can’t,” you want her to be truthful.  Model it and you’ll see it from her more often.
Dad: Mendel, please prepare a dvar Torah to say over at the seudah when Bubbe and Zaide are here next Shabbos.
Mendel: I can’t.
Dad: What do you mean you can’t, of course you can! You just did last Shabbos.
Mendel: I can’t when Bubbe and Zaide are here.
Dad: Of course you can, don’t be silly.
Dad’s right, Mendel can say a dvar Torah when Bubbe and Zaide are there.  He can, but the truth is, he’s afraid to.  When the conversation flows in the following way, dad will learn the truth and he’ll know that Mendel wasn’t being silly:
Dad: Mendel, please prepare a dvar Torah to say over at the seudah when Bubbe and Zaide are here next Shabbos.
Mendel: I can’t.
Dad: You can’t?  What do you think will happen when you try?
Mendel: The same thing that happened the last time I said a dvar Torah when Bubbe and Zaide were here.  Zaide asked me questions about what I said, I didn’t know the answers, Bubbe told Zaide to stop asking me questions and they got into an argument.  I don’t want to cause that to happen again.
It’s still not true that Mendel can’t say a dvar Torah when you ask him to.  He can, and he is very reluctant to.  It is often easier to say you can’t do something than to talk about what you’re concerned about, what it is that is making you reluctant to do it.
We are supposed to judge everyone, including our children, favorably.  When you say, Of course you can, don’t be silly, you’re judging your child unfavorably.
The pasuk says b’tzedek tishpot amisecha, and the Mishna tells us he’vai dan es kal ha-adam l’kaf zchus.   The words, spoken gently, that express those machshavos are:
You can’t?  What do you think will happen when you try?  
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting.  He works with parents and educators, and conducts parenting seminars for shuls and organizations.  He can be reached at 718-344-6575.