By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
Do you tell your children lies? Every parent does. Your parents did it. Your friends do. We did. And you do. Yes, you do. And if you don’t want to admit it, that’s OK. We still know you do.
Lying to your children does not make you a bad parent. It makes you someone who lacks the desire or the verbal skills necessary to give honest and clear feedback (telling the truth).
Lying to your children does not make you lazy. It makes you someone who is in a hurry or is unwilling to invest the time necessary to craft honest answers and deal with the resulting fallout.
Lying to your children does not make you dumb. It makes you someone who doesn't know an honest answer or one who isn't able to find the words to express honest thoughts to your child.
1. "Your picture is fantastic!"
No, it is not fantastic. You're not even sure what it is. How could it be fantastic? Tell the truth by dropping the evaluative comment. Use descriptive and appreciative language instead.
We're not asking you to tell your child their picture is terrible. That's not true either. That is only your interpretation, your evaluation. You do not have to evaluate the picture. Simply describe it. "You used four different colors. You filled the whole page." Or make an appreciative comment. "I'm honored that you would share this with me. Thank you for showing it to me."
2. "We're all out of ice cream."
No, you're not. The ice cream is cleverly hidden in the back of the freezer out of your children's sight and reach. You'll be hauling it out, spooning it up, and pouring chocolate sauce on it as soon as they go to bed. The truth is you tell a lie so you don’t have to deal with whining or repetitious cries of "It's not fair."
We aren't suggesting that you inform your children of your plan to polish off the remaining butter pecan and dispense with the evidence as soon as their heads hit the pillow. We are suggesting that you not tell them "It's all gone" when it obviously is not all gone. Say instead, "Yes, you can have more ice cream. You can choose to have yours as a snack right after you get home from daycare (or school) or following dinner tomorrow. Tell me your choice and I'll help you remember. Now it's tooth brushing time."
3. "It's a tie."
Not true. You won, even though you were making some bad moves on purpose. You know you're bigger and stronger. You realize they are smaller and weaker. So you lie about winning and losing so they won't feel bad. After all, you don't want to crush their spirit.
Here is how to stop lying about winning and losing to young children. Stop playing inappropriate competitive games with small children. Choose games that foster cooperation and helping each other. De-emphasize the concepts of first and best. Concentrate on getting everyone across the finish line. Change the rules if necessary. Play for the sake of playing. Refuse to keep score. Do that and there is no more need to dishonestly say, "It's a tie."
4. "I don't know where my phone/iPad is."
Yes, you do. You don't let it out of your sight for two minutes. The truth is you want to play with it so you respond to "Can I play with your phone?" by telling your child that it's dead or you don't know where it is. There are two people who are not fooled by your response. You are one of them. The other one is a lot younger.
Tell your child, "I hear you'd love to play with my phone [demonstrating understanding]. That would be fun for you. It would really be fun if you could use it for a long time. You'd really like that [granting their wish in fantasy]. Sorry, my phone is not a toy [not for little kids anyway]. It’s a very important adult object and one that I only use myself. Here are some choices of what you can play with."
5. "Better stop that. Santa's elves might see you and report to him. He won't come if you don't behave."
This warning threatens children with a possible loss of Christmas gifts if they don’t behave. It is an effort to manipulate their behavior with a scare tactic.
Does it work? Yes. The important question here is not "Does it work?" Ask yourself, "Does it work and model honest and open communication?" The answer is now "No."
Instead, tell your children the behavior you desire. Have them practice it. Demonstrate it if necessary. Debrief. Does that take more time? Yes. Is it more valuable? Yes.
6. "We were . . . ummm . . . sort of . . . pretend wrestling. That's it. Your mom and I were pretend wrestling."
Tune in next month to read our alternative to this interesting lie. Yes, there is an honest and helpful response to getting caught in the act. In the meantime, lock your door. No lie.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of Parent Talk Essentials: How to Talk to Kids about Divorce, Sex, Money, School and Being Responsible in Today’s World. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish free parent and educator newsletters. To subscribe to the newsletters or obtain information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their websites today: