Is it OK to lie to children?

Can we live at peace with ourselves when we lie to our children?

lying to children

I feel the question is loaded and deserves a loaded answer. Though all I will simply say – it depends. Yes, it really depends! When asking others when and for what reason they will lie to their kids the answers will vary.

There are many reasons why we lie, and they do not all fall into the same level of lying.

Why many of us lie to children:

  1. to protect our children
  2. to protect ourselves – it is easier to lie than to say the truth, not wanting to deal with the consequences of saying the truth ( tantrum)
  3. social/ polite lies- said to be “nice” or not hurt others.
  4. imaginary lies- lies that fuel that imagination not said to hurt others yet to create fantasy- (tooth fairy)

Lying hurts our children, and it hurts us as parents. It breaches the sacred trust our children have in adults and their caregivers. When children ” catch” a parent in a lie, it can cause them to lose their respect for that adult. Such as if you tell a child” if you do not leave the park with me now, I will leave you here for the night…” and they know it is not true causing¬† your words to have little effect on them. The reason you told the lie was to get them to listen yet you are undermining yourself. Rather if you tell them ” if we do not leave the park now we will not be able to visit for the next week..” and you follow up on the consequence your child will know your words are not empty nor a lie and they better listen if they want to visit the park again.

However, it gets complicating. When a child suffered a loss of a pet and wants to know where their beloved pet is. Your response should not be a lie either, it should reflect the age and the level of understanding of your child. Telling the truth will not hurt them as long as it is said appropriately. Gauge their reaction and if it is too much for them then stop. Telling them that their pet ran away or will come back another day will once again break your child’s trust.

Acceptable lies:

When lying to a child for imaginary reasons such as the tooth fairy it usually is acceptable. However it all depends on how you do it. Allow children to discover the truth when they are old enough to understand. When they start questioning you can ask them- ” what do you think?”. Let them discover the truth and do not deny it.

Lying for protection:

A child does not need to know the ins and outs of why mom and dad are divorcing but lying to a child the reason why is not acceptable, tell them what they need to know on their level. You do not need to explain nor tell the whole truth give them the basics. Children are easily perceptive and can easily smell something fishy, if you lie to them.

To compound our feelings of guilt when we lie, many parents justify their lying. There is never justification in lying! It is harmful! In addition, lying becomes habitual. Change the way you talk now and allow the truth to become a habit. It may be difficult at first and uncomfortable for it may seem much easier to lie, however if you continue to lie you will suffer its consequences! Such as children who lie or broken relationships and breached trust. Build your relationship with your children by telling them the truth.

“Telling the truth is an art,¬† an important skill to learn and master.”