The Lies We Tell Our Kids
By Hagar Scher
Yes, even the most virtuous among us tells her kid the occasional whopper. Can't hurt, right?
If you say you've never lied to your kid, you're probably, well, stretching the truth a little. Your fib may have been as innocuous as "there aren't any Fudgeos left" or as significant as "Fluffy went to live on a farm," but face it: The judiciously deployed lie is as much a part of a mother's arsenal as hand sanitizer and string cheese. In fact, 84 percent of REDBOOK readers recently surveyed admit to lying to their kids about once a month.
We moms tend to beat ourselves up about fibbing; more than 76 percent of the readers we surveyed said they felt guilty about telling their kids a lie. But the untruths that fly out of your mouth in times of duress (read: tantrum at the mall) aren't going to permanently damage your kids. Ditto for those "developmental" lies that help kids kick bad behaviors or habits ("If you don't stop sucking your thumb, it might fall off!"). In fact, sometimes, massaging the truth is the most responsible thing to do. "Part of your job as a parent is to cater what you divulge to the age and development of your child," says Michele Borba, author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know. "Often, it's smarter to tell just a little part of the story rather than the whole messy truth." Saying that Dad isn't going to work because his office closed may not paint an accurate picture of how he got laid off, your finances are a mess, and you won't be going on vacation any time soon, but it gives your kid enough information to grasp why things are tense around the house.
What's more, a little dishonesty is called for if the truth would be needlessly hurtful to the listener — an important lesson in kindness to model for your kids. Telling Grandma her fruitcake is delectable may be complete hooey, but it's the right thing to do after she put her heart and soul into crafting the confection. And then there are those tall tales we tell our kids about Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and their pals — yes, they're technically lies, but they help us create traditions that give kids a sense of wonder and joy.
Obviously, you don't want to make lies a daily part of your repertoire, says Borba. Children watch their parents like hawks and eventually will catch on. "In the short term, if you're caught in a small lie, your kid is a little miffed and you're embarrassed," says Nancy Darling, a professor of psychology at Oberlin College. "But in the long term, being caught in repeated lies means our kids learn we can't really be trusted. Kids need their parents to be a rock of certainty, and each lie is a chip off that certainty." Plus, children of parents who fib frequently are better at deception themselves — and employ it more often. Most important, every time you lie to avoid a difficult topic, such as sex or illness, you miss a precious opportunity to talk openly and honestly with your children and communicate that they can always turn to you, even when what they have to say is awkward or unpleasant.