Is It Ever OK To Lie To Our Children?

“No-one believes a liar even when they’re telling the truth.”

I recite this to my children regularly. It’s the moral of the story from the classic Aesop’s Fable: The Boy Who Cried Wolf. We regularly encourage them to tell the truth, even if they’ve misbehaved. Whatever trouble they are in, either at home or at school, the punishment is double if we find out they have lied about it. We advise they just own up to it, apologise and then we can all move on.

The only trouble is, the world isn’t always as black and white as we make out it is. Can we as parents, honestly, hand on heart say we never lie to our children? I know I can’t. So are we holding them to a higher standard than what we expect of ourselves? Is this fair? And what would they think of us if they find out the truth?

I think it’s fair to say most parents have told their child a lie. Even if it’s a small white lie, or a lie with good intentions.

We may tell lies to protect them, or comfort them. Does that make it justified? When is a lie just a lie?

My eldest is quite cynical for an eight year old. He has a very scientific mind and likes facts and numbers and logic. So when we took him and his brother to Dinosaurs In The Wild recently (for my review have a nosy here!) we were delighted when he soaked it all up and really believed we had travelled back in time to the Jurassic period. The look of pure magic and astonishment on his face is honestly a memory I shall cherish.

He was so excited, he couldn’t wait to tell his friends he had time travelled and so seemed really disheartened when they told him they didn’t believe him because it wasn’t possible. That was when he asked me –

“We did really go back in time, didn’t we Mum?”

I had a split second to make a decision and in that moment I couldn’t bear to disappoint him and feeling desperate to keep the magic alive, I said “of course we did”.

It was only afterwards that I started to doubt whether I had done the right thing. Should I have told him the truth? How would he feel if he found out we’d lied? How can we expect our children to be 100% honest, if we can’t guarantee it ourselves?

I always said to myself if one of my children got to an appropriate age and asked the direct question “Is Santa real?” then I would answer honestly. Now I’m not so sure. I want to keep that magic alive for as long as possible. They’re young for such a small amount of time, is it wrong to want to prolong that?

I think the majority of us believed in Santa as a child and we haven’t been psychologically damaged by the truth. I guess we have to hope that when they do find out the truth, they have the emotional maturity to understand the decisions we made.

We did it out of love.

The same logic applies when we tell our children “everything is going to be ok,” when perhaps we don’t know that for certain. My husband admitted that when he talked to the children about my Grandmother’s (and the cats’!) death, he talked about heaven, despite not being sure if he believed in it himself.

It reminds me of that old episode of Friends where Phoebe realises she had never seen the end to any sad movie. Her mother would always turn it off before something sad would happen in an attempt to protect her.

Which also makes me wonder, is it our job to protect our children from the harsh realities of life, or do we need to show them that life can be hard at times. We teach our children that love will always conquer hate. Good will always triumph over evil. Is that true? I’m not so sure. There’s a lot of unscrupulous people in positions of power right now.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know whether we’re doing it right. However, I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop encouraging my children to believe in the power of goodness. I may be delaying the inevitable. One day they will stop believing in Santa and they will undoubtedly discover that the world can be a cruel place at times, but in the meantime I want to preserve that innocence. That look of joy and wonder on Christmas morning. That look of amazement that crosses my son’s face when he talks about the day he time travelled. That belief that with a good heart they can achieve anything in life.

So I guess that what it comes down to. The lies we tell to protect, or to comfort, or to keep the magic alive. It all comes down to one thing.

Love.

And perhaps for that we can be excused.

 

3 Little Buttons

15 comments

  1. I agree with you that it isn’t black and white. And I think there is a big difference between giving age appropriate information and flat out lies. Keeping the magic alive, like with Santa, is totally age appropriate information to me. You are right, love is what determines what we share. I think kids understand that.

  2. This was a really thought provoking post! I can understand that while it is important to instill in children that telling the truth and owning up if they’ve done something wrong, it is lovely to allow them to have magical experiences like your son with the dinosaurs, even if it means telling a few white lies! I definitely agree that love and comfort sometimes trumps the need to be truthful!

    Abbey 😘

  3. I completely agree! Life is not black and white.. Personally I think it’s differentiating between things where children really need to know the truth and those things that are just a general part of childhood #dreamteam

  4. There may be good intentions behind it, but the problem is when they find out it wasn’t true. For really small kids I think it’s ok to tell them santa is real, but i think as they get older they are around people in school who will tell them it’s just some guy in a suit. I think then, it’s stupid to keep pretending to them

  5. As parents we don’t necessarily tell lies we sugar coat the truth and I think that is a vital part of being a parent. Everyone has told a little white lie here and there to thier kids and are lying if they say they haven’t. I think its totally aceptable when its to spare their feelings, put their minds at ease or to set their imaginations free to run wild, where’s the harm?

  6. I have always talked to my kids the way I understood life to work. You have to let them understand that good thing will happen when you do good things and bad things will happen when you do bad things . And even when you don’t know the outcome you have to continue to tell them that everything will be ok, bc it will. Loved your blog enjoyed reading it .

  7. I so much agree with you that we all have said lie but with good intentions for our kids and for their happiness. But I think that this is okay until they enter the age wherein they are able to decide for themselves the truth and lie. Since, if later on they get ot know that it was a lie from us, they cold rather learn to speak lie and say later that you also used to say lies:(. Pretty complicated!

  8. I literally just wrote a rant post about lying to our children!! But mine explains why it isn’t ok to lie to kids when we are trying to enforce a rule. It’s very common in our (indian) culture to lie to children, and I find it very irritating because it doubles up my job as a parent when my daughters are lied to by someone else. I completely get what you’re saying and i think for certain things it is permissible and age appropriate. But when you have an opportunity to go with honesty and its not harming or upsetting the child, then i say go for it. #dreamteam

  9. Great post. I tell little white lies to my children and then wonder why. I just want them to have a happy and secure children, and protect them from all the bad stuff in the world.

  10. Honestly I don’t think it’s “ok” to lie to the children but if it’s something that holds serious matter that might scare or make them think in a bad way, then I guess you can tell them else (white lie).

  11. I think it all depends on their age. Some lies are more about protecting them or stimulating imagination and that’s ok. I do try to tell my children the truth when it’s ok to tell them the truth. If it’s a difficult subject then I’ll tell them the truth minus the gritty details! x
    #dreamteam

  12. There is such a fine line between a lie and a protective or well-meaning fib isn’t there? Our biggest little learnt about death recently and when she questions it we try to be truthful but with a coating of sugar to make it slightly easier to take. Sometimes it breaks your heart to have to answer impossible questions like “But will I die?”. I can relate to this and you raise a very valid point. Thanks for linking to #DreamTeam x

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