Is it okay to lie to your child?
That is a question only you can answer. There are many “lies” that parents tell their children to create mystery and childhood excitement—think of visitors and creatures that come around holidays bearing gifts. While this is a lie, it can also be an important family tradition. So, the rule about lying to your kids is simple: You make the rules.
According to a University of Toronto study, 70% of parents teach their child that lying is unacceptable. The same study reports that 80% of the same parents have lied to their children. Lying, with children and adults alike, poses a very particular moral conundrum.
There are all different types of lying. From telling your children that their scribble drawing is beautiful to telling them they were helpful when they were anything but. Lying to reinforce good behaviors or to build a child’s confidence is a practice that many parents engage in.
Other parents report lying to their children when the truth was something that was just too complex for them to understand. For example, telling a child that an incarcerated parent is “away on a trip” is often easier than explaining the legal details to a toddler.
Experts caution that while some of these lies may seem harmless, they do have consequences. According to Kate Roberts, Ph.D. in Psychology Today, “When a child knows the truth and when his parents contradict this knowledge, the child ends up doubting himself. Healthy children learn to trust their inner sense of right and wrong at a young age because their parents encourage this.”
They Are Watching
No matter where you fall on the moral scale when it comes to lying, most experts agree that whether you like it or not, you are modeling behavior for your children all of the time. So, if you continually lie to your children you can expect to get a healthy dose of lying back from them. An MIT study showed that children are not as gullible as we think and can sense when parents are lying or withholding information.
Although some scenarios may be uncomfortable, to maintain your child’s trust (which is ultimately linked to their own self-trust) experts suggest being as truthful as possible. Explain tough situations as best you can in age-appropriate terms and language that your child can understand. Let your child know that although sometimes life can be difficult and some things are hard to understand, you will be there to support them.