Is lying to your children OK?
I overheard a mother telling her young child, who was having a tantrum, that she was going to leave the store and that the manager would put her in a room on her own. Now no judging here, I have made plenty of ………….or else statements, it did, however, make me think about how we routinely lie to our children.
What about the small lies we tell as a tool to make children comply. Is it OK? Don’t lie! or your nose will grow, finish your crusts they make your hair curly, don’t pick your nose or your brains will fall out. I’m going to find a policeman, Santa is watching you, you better be good. Are we taking the easy road on a very hard journey? Is telling a child they must not eat cake before bedtime as it will give them nightmares better than saying, No it is unhealthy? There’s even a term for the white lie approach, it’s called Pinocchio Parenting.
But if we lie to our children, won’t they think lying is OK??
85% of children under the age of 5 think Santa is real.
My own children believed, I played along with gifts from Santa, we left carrots and mince pies on the fireplace hearth. My husband and I delighted in the magic of it all, reliving our own childhood. We never made lists, posted letters or threatened that he would not come or suggest he was watching, so they better be good. For me that just all a bit creepy. I am perfectly capable of saying that I did not like the way my children were behaving and they should stop or there would be consequences.
We parent how we see best.
Santa stopped in our house as soon as my daughter was old enough to question the logistics of it all. I went hands up as soon as my children discovered my deceit, they were both pleased that they had figured it all out. I think that once children start questioning you about the lie – it’s time to start talking to them about the truth.
Lies can be a useful tool to give children age-appropriate responses at a level that they can understand. Sometimes very young children will simply not have the capacity to understand the reality of a situation, so a lie may seem like the best option until they are ready for the truth. “An adult comforting a child and telling them that their recently deceased pet will go to a special place (animal heaven) is arguably nicer than telling graphic truths about its imminent re-entry into the carbon cycle,” write Boyle and McKay in their research ‘a wonderful lie.’ Personally, I would tell the truth, I may wrap it up in an analogy bow or story but, it would be the facts of the matter.
For the record, I think lying to our children is more about how we feel than protecting them
When a child asks about an absent parent, a sudden death, a past you do not want to discuss or a subject you feel too embarrassed to talk about, should you lie? In my experience, when young children ask for the truth and you respond with it, they listen to just enough information for them, then they stop listening and continue whatever it was they were doing before the question. An answer to a sticky question may sometimes continue over several days. How the baby got into mummy’s tummy can start with love, sperm and egg and finish, two months later, with ‘and that is why our bodies are different. Telling the truth worked for me, being found under a bush or delivered by a stork, as an alternative to the above is a pretty alarming concept if you think about it.
But hey that’s just me.
Research suggests that if you are thinking about having to lie to your child, rather than confronting these issues head-on, it’s important to consider a few things before you do.
Are you sparing them pain in the short term, which will just make things more painful for them in the future?
Will the lie confuse them, or give them unrealistic expectations of circumstances, people or behaviour?
Will they resent you or lose trust in you once they find out you have lied to them?
Then there’s the big one. Are you lying for the child’s benefit, or for your own?
The tendency to ‘Pinocchio parent’ is growing and emerging studies do suggest that parents’ lies may have a detrimental effect on a child’s behaviour. A small MIT study on six- and seven-year-olds, for example, found that when an authority figure omits the truth, it may cause children to suspend their trust or be suspicious of anything else that authority figure says in the future. An experiment from the University of California, San Diego found that when children ages five to seven are lied to, they are also more likely to cheat and lie in return. Interesting isn’t it, or frightening? I’m not sure which.
Look, all children are different, your child’s age and emotional maturity levels, your own beliefs, and that of your communities are all important and unique. I am not trying to lecture, but it is food for thought, is lying to your children, for any reason OK? We must decide for ourselves. Being a parent is not easy, it will be interesting how my children go with their children. I have been cringingly open and honest with them, will they do the same or do they think it will be better to lie?
Kids, if you do decide to lie about a subject, the advice is:
Be prepared for the truth to surface.
Be ready to explain why you didn’t tell them the truth in the first place.
Be ready to tackle the uncomfortable reality of the truth, and for their reactions.
And be ready for their questions, and confusions. Usually in a very public place!
Also keep them away from me, as I am likely to tell them the true, cold hard facts.
My dad once told me, that he had met Mohammad Ali at work, he said that he had been asked, in jest, to throw a punch. The story continued that my dad had knocked him out. I listened with wide eyes and went to school and told all my friends that my dad had beaten up one of the greatest boxers of all time. No one believed me, of course, I was humiliated. Looking back now I realise how ridiculous the tale had been but my dad had told me: so I thought it was true. Not an intentional lie but it does demonstrate the power our words have as parents.
Children can be very receptive, and lies may leave them confused or may result in them drawing their own conclusions. However small the lie may seem, children are like sponges — they may remember and catch you out on a lie that could come back to bite you later down the track! Also they believe every word you say until they find out the truth.