To you parents just trying to do right for your kids, to lie or not to lie is often the question. Sometimes it seems easier to tell a small lie to your child rather than have them face the reality. But in which situations is it appropriate, and even recommended to lie to your child? Here are 6 times when you should be lying to your child.
1. Lie to encourage them
As children grow older, they can better handle criticism and use it as a tool to improve themselves and their talents. However, at younger ages such criticism may come across as too hurtful and will stop or stunt a child’s progress. If their piano playing or artistic ability is not the best it can be just yet, tell them what a good job they are doing, and embellish the facts to give them a boost of confidence.
2. Lie when hard reality is too hard
Sometimes the truth needs to be filtered for younger children. One child psychiatrist, Dr. Robin Altman, has said, “A parent’s job is to protect children and nurture their development,” which sometimes requires withholding certain truths from children. When trying to understand terrorist attacks or shootings, for instance, don’t give your children all the information, only enough to know the basics. If you pile on too many of the hard facts, your younger children may experience unnecessary stress from things outside their control.
3. Lie when Christmas rolls around
Many parents question whether or not they should allow their children to believe in fantasies like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny. But denying your children of these fictitious characters makes it more difficult for them to understand abstract ideas or believe in anything when they are older. As they grow up and question the reality of people such as Santa Claus, use it as a chance to teach that you still hang stockings or leave cookies for Santa because he reminds you of what Christmas is really about. It is a great opportunity for children to learn about the things that are worth believing in and to understand that some people believe differently than they will.
4. Lie when they have imaginary friends
You may have wondered, along with many other parents, what’s the point of letting your child have an imaginary friend? Professionals say that a child with an imaginary friend is better able to cope with stress, as they are better able to creatively find ways to problem solve. They also are more able to put themselves in the perspectives of others, allowing for increased social understanding. So encourage your child to believe in their imaginary friends, and maybe set a place at the table for them next dinner.
5. Lie with any sort of imaginative play
All types of imaginative play, from dress-up to Cowboys and Indians, is just as important to your child’s health as nutritious food choices as it allows your child to improve their cognitive development. In a paradoxical way, a child’s imagination helps them to better understand reality. Harvard professor, Paul Harris, has noted that, “The imagination is absolutely vital for contemplating reality, not just those things we take to be mere fantasy.” Children can better understand history, geography, worldwide news, and more later in life when their parents allow for and participate in imaginative play while their children are young.
6. Lie to keep them safe
Children shouldn’t be completely sheltered from problems in your family, but they also don’t need all that weight on their shoulders. Again, filter for them truths they need to know, but withhold some of the facts. For instance, in some cases you shouldn’t hide from your kids that you and your spouse are fighting, but don’t tell your younger children all the why’s behind marital arguments. When telling children about difficult issues, especially those closer to home, always end in a positive light. Tell them that you may be fighting, but you’re also trying to say sorry and make it right.
In all situations, gauge whether or not your child can handle the truth. The younger they are, the less likely they can process or cope with the full truth of some of these situations. There is no set formula for when you should stop lying to your child, as each child is different.
Just be sure to not let lying be your way out of difficult situations. This can be difficult especially if you fall into the trap of telling little white lies. Your children will start to pick up on these lies, and question your honesty and motivation behind them, breaking down the trust they had with you. In all that you do, let your child know that you care about them and want them to grow up strong and happy, and that you’re just doing the best you know how.
Your children deserve the best. They deserve to know the truth, but only when they can properly handle it.