Parents All Lie to Their Kids Every Day: How It Affects Children
As parents, we want to protect our children and make them happy. Sometimes, we resort to lying to achieve that, intentionally or unconsciously. We say things like “Santa is watching,” or “I promise it won’t hurt,” to get them to behave or stop crying. But what we fail to realize is that constant lying may actually do more harm than good to their development.
Lying Teaches Children to Lie
You may tell your child not to lie, but continually saying these lies, no matter how small, teaches them to lie as well. They will think it is ok to lie, since Mommy and Daddy lie. According to a study by Angela Crossman at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “Children whose parents avoid lying are less likely to lie and more likely to tell the truth to researchers in a variety of settings, including theoretically tempting situations.”
Lying Damages Trust
Trust is an essential factor in healthy relationships, including between parents and children. When parents lie, children lose their trust in them. They learn that they cannot rely on their parents to be honest with them, which may lead to resentment, defiance, and distancing. They may start hiding things from their parents or lying themselves to avoid getting in trouble or protect themselves from disappointment.
Lies have a way of coming out eventually, and when they do, they can cause more damage than telling the truth from the start. Imagine that a child discovers that Santa is not real, or that their artwork wasn’t really lost but thrown away by their parent. They may feel betrayed, confused, or hurt. They may also start questioning other things they were told, such as the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny, and become more skeptical in general.
What Parents Can Do Instead
Of course, there will be situations where parents may need to withhold the entire truth or sugarcoat it to avoid overwhelming their children. However, there are also many instances where being honest and direct can enhance the relationship and teach valuable life lessons.
For instance, instead of threatening children with Santa not giving them gifts, parents can take away something in the here and now so they know their behavior has immediate consequences. If they are fighting with their sister, have a consequence for their behavior, such as taking away electronics for a few hours or giving them a time-out period. If they need to get a shot from the doctor, explain that it will be a small poke and a little pain, but then it’s over and they get a sucker. Let them know they need the shot for their health.
In cases where parents cannot fulfill their children’s requests, such as taking them to the park or buying them something expensive, they can be honest and explain why. Children are more resilient than we think, and they can understand that sometimes we must prioritize other things over their wants. Parents can also involve them in decision-making, such as by letting them choose which activity or outing they prefer within the budget or time constraints.
Children also benefit from genuine praise and constructive feedback. If parents see something they like in their children’s artwork, they can point it out specifically, such as “I like how you used different colors” or “You paid attention to the details.” If they see room for improvement, they can encourage them to try again or ask questions, such as “What could you have done differently?” or “How do you feel about this piece?”
All parents may have lied to their children at some point, consciously or unconsciously. However, it’s essential to be mindful of the messages we convey and the impact they have on our children’s development. Constant lying can teach children to lie, damage trust, and backfire in the long run. Being honest and direct, while also maintaining sensitivity and compassion, can enhance the parent-child relationship, foster curiosity and learning, and help children develop into honest, trustworthy, and resilient adults.