Is it ok to lie to our children?

lieDo you Lie?

Do you lie to your children? Have you ever lied to them or other people’s kids in the past?

You think you don’t? Think again. I have lied to my children and to other people’s children too and I am sure you have as well.

Even if you don’t have kids of your own at some point in your life you have probably lied to a child, or been complicit in a lie.

We teach children, whether we are parents, grandparents, teachers or carers, that it is wrong to lie. Some children are punished if they lie. We think it is wrong for adults to lie to adults.

It is wrong to tell lies. We say this to children all the time.

So why do we lie to children?

What made me think of writing this post is a conversation I had with my now adult son.

Santa is a myth

He said that if he ever had children he would tell them that Father Christmas does not exist.

He told me that the disappointment of discovering that Father Christmas didn’t actually come down the chimney and bring presents was enormous. And then that made him question all the other things I had told him. Mom and Dad had lied to him.

Now I am not sure what shocked him most, no Santa or that Mom lied.

Did the discovery that Santa was not real, distress him that much?

Or as a parent had I let him down by lying?

He told me that once he realised Santa was a lie, so was the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny.

Childhood beliefs dashed in a day.

I reasoned with him that if he told his child that Santa didn’t exist his child would then tell other children and dash their hopes too. Or get bullied or ostracised by other parents.

He was resolute, it is a lie and it is wrong. He was not going to back down.

I was taken aback at this. What about the magic of Christmas, presents and the excitement? You loved Christmas when you were a child I reminded him.

Nope, apparently once the lie was exposed all that had been spoiled for him too.

I honestly did not know what to say.

After this conversation, I asked a younger person to see what they thought about the Santa lie. They agreed with my son. It is wrong to lie, therefore the Santa myth needs to stop.

What other lies do we tell children?

I would like to think that most of mine were to keep them safe. They probably don’t remember it but I told them that the car would not start if they weren’t wearing their safety belts. At some stage most kids resent the seat belt, especially when they are fidgety six-year olds as it restricts them. By telling my kids this, they always had the belt fastened and would not consider undoing it while travelling.  As lies go, I think I am allowed this one, even if it was told to get the children to comply.


But isn’t that what the Santa myth is all about. Compliance. Santa knows if you have been naughty or nice. A lie to get the kids to act the way we want them to behave. Shocking really. I am sure I never told that one. And if I did, I am sorry. It was wrong.

Lies we tell children

I just googled lies we tell children, and found this. Apparently Santa is watching you is NBD (no big deal – I had to look that up too). The one about saying the dog has gone to live on a farm when it has really died is ranked as ‘cringing’ for wrongness. I remember being lied to about my first dog dying. It hurt more so when I finally worked it all out. After all, you wouldn’t say Granny has gone to the farm. That said, how many times have you heard the phrase ‘they’ve gone to a better place’ when someone has died? If you are not religious this is of no comfort at all. And if you are a child a better place for Granny is in her home, baking cakes or whatever Granny does nowadays.

Another lie, ‘it won’t hurt’ – yup my daughter still remembers the blood test that hurt. A lot. This was not a lie I told her, this was down to her Dad. Not just me that’s not a perfect parent then. I was cross about this. My poor daughter was traumatised. Given that as her dad had had to have a blood test when I was pregnant with her he had nearly fainted, how could he have lied to her?  Nope, never lie about hospital procedures. Or the dentist.

I am sure that these sort of lies can give children phobias or irrational fears. Being told it won’t hurt and it does, could put you off a dentist for life. Perhaps it is only you that feels this pain?

Or it may be people are scared of the dentists because they have been told horrible accounts of visits by their parents. Just tell the truth, and if the truth may them scare them, manage expectations at the least. (See blood test above).

The art of diplomacy

Yet we need to remember the art of diplomacy – and teach that to our kids, because sometimes the blatant truth can hurt.

Would I tell Granny her pasty is horrible when she thinks she is the best pastry chef ever? Well no. I told my Nan I didn’t like pastry and guess what, I still don’t. If our child brings home a painting from school that is hideous, would we tell them? Interesting is always a good word for those moments, I found. My mom used to ask her class to tell her about what they had made or painted, she never ever said ‘what is it?’

Encouragement builds confidence

Of course it is not helpful telling your child that they are a beautiful singer or talented artist if they aren’t. We have all seen those X Factor Contestants that cannot sing at all and are in total denial. How many times have we heard the words ‘my Mom says I have the voice of an angel’? Why lie to them? Don’t set them up to fail or give them an inflated ego. Because no one likes a big head. Confidence is good, arrogance is ugly.

Yet I believe that we need to encourage them if they love singing or painting, even if at first they show no signs of talent. They may get better. They will have lots of fun, so let them dance/sing/paint like no one is watching. Even the most talented artists have to practice their art – singers have voice coaches, dancers and musicians practice for hours everyday.

I am so glad that my mom let me try everything I expressed an interest in. The violin, the recorder, swimming, ballet, ice skating and ballroom dancing. I knew my limitations, I did them for fun. And it made me believe that I could do whatever I put my mind to, I was not frightened to try new things nor scared of failure. I found out for myself my talents. I knew I wasn’t going to be an olympic swimmer, yet I still enjoyed training with one.

Set up to fail

A while ago I heard this story and it made me think about how we can make or break someone’s life in a matter of moments. A young girl, first week at school, was trying out for the choir. The music teacher told the class that if she put her hand on their shoulder, they must stop singing as they were not a good enough. This girl felt the hand on her shoulder and didn’t sing again for years. At that moment she was labelled a bad singer, she was five years old. In her fifties she summoned the courage to join a singing group, and now enjoys singing with a choir. All those years with no music in her life. Because of the tap on her shoulder at age five. Told that she was not good enough. A failure at five. Maybe she wasn’t the best singer there, yet to take that joy away from someone so young was wrong. I am sure it could have been handled so much better. Not lied to, of course, but encouraged.

That is why I don’t like gifted and talented programs in schools. If you are not ‘gifted and talented’ then what are you? If you are on such a program will they give you an inflated ego, being told you are better than others? Everyone has a talent – we are all gifted in our own way. It is up to parents, teachers, work colleagues, managers and friends to help an individual to discover and nurture that talent. Like the girl who was told she couldn’t sing at aged five, at fifty she discovered she could.

So is it good to ever lie?

Can the truth hurt?

When does diplomacy become a lie?

Do you have a talent that wasn’t nurtured as a child?

And most importantly, do you believe in Santa?

Skipping Christmas

I had suggested to my son that as he wasn’t religious, and didn’t believe in Santa, perhaps we need to cancel Christmas. That’s fine, he said. We don’t really go overboard with Christmas anyway. It is just another day. As he hates roast dinners he doesn’t even like Christmas Dinner. So we do Christmas differently. No cards, no expensive physical gifts and food people like. Family time and shared experiences. We like it.

In 2011 Phil and I were in Melbourne for Christmas. We had planned on Skipping Christmas altogether and probably taking the dogs for a walk on the beach instead. Things turned out differently. We shared a meal with 20 around the table, watched no telly at all, met some wonderful people and had a great day. We skyped the kids, and all was well with the world.





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