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Lying to Your Children

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Moms should follow the Golden Rule, too.

Cara Gardenswartz: In almost every situation, telling the truth teaches your kids to do the same with you -- to be truthful. Every time you lie to avoid a difficult topic, you miss a precious opportunity to talk openly with your children. You want to let them know that they can always turn to you, no matter the circumstance.

mom driving buckled up kids

The following examples are lies that parents make:

Lie: "The car doesn't work until your seat belts are buckled."
Alternative: "I'm not starting the car until the seat belts are fastened. This is how mommy keeps you safe."

Lie: "It's against the law for four-year-olds to use pacifiers."
Alternative: "I know you really love your binky, but as kids get older they don't use them anymore. It's better for your teeth. We can think of something else that makes you feel good to hold onto." (Don't forget to validate her feelings -- "I know this is hard" -- and let her talk about it.)

Lie: "Fluffy (the cat) went to live with Mommy and Daddy Cat."
Alternative: "Fluffy died" (wait to see their response). You don't want to give kids more information than they need. If they don't ask the question, they're not ready or curious. When they are, they'll ask.

Lie: "If you don't behave, Santa won't bring you gifts."
Alternative: "If you don't take care of your toys and put them away, then Mommy and Daddy aren't going to buy you more toys."

Lie: "We don't have enough money to pay for the toy you want."
Alternative: "We aren't going to spend our money on toys today." (This is a lesson in coping. When she gets mad at you, she can learn to tolerate her feelings -- and learn that if she gets mad at Mommy, Mommy can tolerate being yelled at and won't go away or stop loving her.)

Lie: "The shot won't hurt" or "You probably won't get a shot at the check-up."
Alternative: "You're probably going to get a shot ... I know, Sweetie, I don't like shots either. I do promise though it will be done by the time you count to three."

9 comments so far | Post a comment now
chris May 5, 2009, 8:02 AM

I had a situation come up when I was talking to my 13 year old son about sex and safety and he asked me if I had sex before I got married. I lied and told him no and then while discussing this with some girlfriends, they all told me it was wrong to lie and I should tell him the truth. After debating this with my husband and thinking hard about it, I decided to go back and talk with my son and explain that I didn’t tell him the truth and that his Dad and I did have sex before marriage but only after we had already decided to get married and spend our lives together. It was really hard to do that but I hope that it will show him that I want to be honest with him and hopefully he will be honest with me when he is faced with these decisions. It’s hard when you’re raised with the belief that sex before marriage is bad but in reality most people don’t wait. Sometimes it’s really hard to know if you’re doing the right things with and for your kids. I hope this was right.

ChuldPerson May 5, 2009, 11:06 AM

Thank you! Truth begins at home… and lies we tell children aren’t always as simple as these you mention. I’m thinking of the 7 year old who hanged himeself because, he said, I’m a liar- just like my Mom. You know someone told him that… probably more people than we might believe…including some in the child welfare system that failed to protect him.

dave May 5, 2009, 11:50 AM

What a stupid article.
Fluffy DIED. Now wait for a reaction? Hmm, maybe they’ll just nod their heads and ask for some candy right? Let’s see, they’re kids, their lifelong pet just died, and I’m supposed to tell them that, but not give them anymore information. If you ask 100 parents, they’ll all tell you what the first question will be. And the next 20 questions after that too.

messymom May 5, 2009, 3:40 PM

This is great advice. I get confused sometimes about what helps or hurts in terms of the truth. i like the way you word things. Thanks as always Dr. G!!!

Uly May 5, 2009, 7:56 PM

Well, Dave, what *should* you say? If the cat’s dead, your kid has a right to know.

Marjorie May 8, 2009, 5:43 PM

Truth is always the best and it is about time we return to honest values pertaining to all aspects of our lives.
Thanks for the direct advice. Lies lead to secrets which burden us and loss of respect from our kids.

Julia May 8, 2009, 5:46 PM

If you want your children to respect you and if you want to be a good role model for your children, you need to be real and honest. I agree wholeheartedly with you Dr. G and hope that your article is very well read.
Perhaps Fluffy the cat could get a simple follow-up sentence depending on reaction and age of child.

shoppersdream May 9, 2009, 8:25 AM

Good article I liked it. Thanks. A good reminder

Monica June 4, 2009, 12:29 AM

I whole heartedly agree. We should try to be truthful with our children. While we don’t really notice it our children are watching us and pick up on our behaviors. Even when we think we can get away with it sometimes it come back to bit us. I know a three year old you already knows how to lie because his mother lies and admits it in front of him. I am sure he picks up on it because she tries to get him to go along with it if it involves him. Like don’t tell them you are 3 so we can get in free. Even if we want to make a quick unspent buck its wrong to teach your children that lying is okay in order to make even small financial gain. That’s a no no with me.

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