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Lying to Children

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Lying to Children

Do you ever lie to your children? I’ll be honest – I do. Sometimes it’s far easier to tell our 4 year old “No, we don’t have any chocolate in the house” when in fact we do, or “there’s no veggies in the pasta sauce” or that “wine is yucky” and “mummy is going to bed now too” when I’m planning to stay up… and possibly drink wine…

Then there’s the whole Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy thing I won’t even get into!

I think where maybe it’s unwise to lie to children is when they will learn very quickly that you’ve deceived them. For example; my 4 year old recently had his latest couple of vaccinations, and I told him we were going to the doctors and that he was going to have needles. He pouted and said “But I don’t want needles” and I gently and as simply as possible explained why it was necessary he has them.

Then he looked up at me with big frightened eyes and said “But needles hurt” and in that moment there was a strong temptation to assure him the needles won’t hurt. I wanted to comfort him, and tell him something to make the whole thing go away, I hated the idea of taking him somewhere for him to get hurt, actually dreading 4 year old needles far more than baby needles, because I felt I owed my 4 year old a full explanation – knowing he’d still not understand.

So, what happens if I tell my 4 year old “Needles won’t hurt”. What is going to happen the moment that needle slides into his skin and injects him with a vaccine? He’s going to know I lied to him. He’s going to get hurt and then be hurt that I’ve broken his trust. So I told him that it’ll only hurt for a little while. Then made some offers of icy poles, lolly pops, basically he was going to get a free-ride on whatever food his heart desired after he had his needles. While I chose not to lie to him, I’m certainly not above bribery! Which was much more effective than trying to explain to him that he’s not sick now, and he still might get sick, but needles would stop him from getting very very sick, without also then scaring my little boy who is already a little bit afraid of germs (thank you “Yo Gabba Gabba”).

But all this got me thinking about all the white lies, what if I tell him there is no chocolate and an hour later his father gives him some chocolate – he’ll know I’ve lied to him about whether or not we had chocolate. Whoops! Caught out!

And my father always used to say to me “The truth is the easiest thing to remember”.

I’m not saying that my 4 year old deserves full disclosure of all information I have available to me, but after reflecting on why I needed to tell him the painful truth that needles would hurt, I’ve decided that I’m going to drop the white lies also. I’m still the “boss”, if he asks if there is chocolate and it’s not an appropriate time to eat chocolate, I can still tell him there is chocolate and he can have some later.

Though I’m not sure what I’ll say if he asks me any of the big questions, like how are babies made or what happens when people die. I may leave out some details – but I will endeavor to be as truthful as I can, because for so many reasons I need to preserve my sons trust in me. Though we have had conversations about sometimes mummy can be wrong, which isn’t the same as lying.

About Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner.She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum.She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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10 comments

  1. Esme found this in the library, and it’s awesome. And no, no lies here, except tooth fairy, but even then I make sure I add a bit about ‘that’s how the story goes’.

  2. Ah yes, all the time!! No honey, giggle and hoot isn’t on tonight… sorry bubba, we must have left the dummy at playschool. Oh, playschool lost your dummy, how sad… Yes, I know it looks like chicken, but it’s bacon, now eat it all up… Vegetables? No, broccoli isn’t vegetables, sweetie… Ah, I could go on and on…

  3. “sometimes mummy can be wrong, which isn’t the same as lying” – Love it.

  4. Also, I read a science-y book a while ago, and they had a term called ‘lies to children’. They were refering to the ‘lies’ used to explain complex scientific ideas to young (primary school?) children so they could grasp the basics and then eventually move on to a more complex and accurate explaination. E.g. gravity holds you onto the earth. Not exactly wrong, or a lie, but it is deliberatly not the whole truth.
    And that reminds me of a time I asked my mum how babies were made, and she told me it was with lots of kisses and cuddles 😛

  5. Terry Pratchett? Love his stuff. I grew up not being able to trust the adults around me. I was bright to work it out early on and it made me feel unsafe. I really hate path of least resistance lies. If I dont want to tell Esme something I tell her it’s something it not appropriate for us to discuss at her age, but that I will tell her when she is older. It great to be able to call her on her lies to me and tell her that I never lie to her, and I never will. We have people bring their kids in for surgery and tell them they are going to the zoo, because they don’t have a trusting relationship with their child. Esme sat perfectly still for her 4 year old jabs and trusted me when I told her what kind of pain it would be and that she would be fine, and she was. She doesn’t get scared if I tell her it will be ok, because she trusts me.

  6. Good article, very thought provoking. I am a liar, I will try harder not to though, promise 🙂

  7. I do all the time but not on things that really matter

  8. Ah yes… where do babies come from? We came up with a very clever age appropriate explanation of where babies come from. “Daddy plants a special seed inside mummy and then her body is like a garden that grows the seed into a brand new baby”. This was a fantastic explanation until she asked (in front of mother-in-law no less) if she could please “watch next time daddy put the baby seed in mummy’s bottom”. Parenting gold that very quickly turned into a fiery parenting plane crash!