Friday, June 8, 2012
Parents lie all the time for various reasons. In a recent Huffington Post piece Liar, Liar Devon Corneal admits to fibbing and lying to her child. She says she lies all the time, about cupcakes, marshmallows, about the library being closed when she doesn't want to go and even that nobody died in the sinking of the Titanic. Should parents always tell the truth?
Well, let’s talk about some things to consider before lying to our children:
Missed Opportunities for Learning
Sometimes parents tell lies to protect their children’s feelings. Although I do not remember doing this deliberately, I do understand there may be a time when telling the truth becomes a difficult, emotionally charged situation. Yet, children do need to feel their feelings, even if it is disappointment, fear or being displeased.
Through these difficult moments, even when they discover that the dog shred their lovey which was forgotten by the sofa, or that Sparky the fish is floating because he is dead, yes, totally dead, not sleeping or going to play at the flush park on the other side of the toilet lid, that children learn to accept, regulate and understand their emotions.
All these moments, no matter how emotionally difficult are teachable moments, moments where children can learn about responsibility (remember to clean up that lovey), learn about the cycle of life, grief and loss (good bye sparky, yes 1500 people died in the titanic), learn empathy too (sorry, I am too tired to visit the library today, let’s think of something else we can do.) Should we lie to our children to avoid emotions and miss these teachable moments? Or should we instead brave the truth?
Modeling the Easy Way Out
I totally understand, it may seem easier to say that the cupcakes are all gone or that the grocery store is out of marshmallows than to stick to our limits and deal with the potential disagreement. But, don’t we want our children to respect us and understand that there are limits in the household? Plus shouldn't children have their own opinions, a voice, grow up to believe in their own potential, their strength? Should we really take the easy route or look for ways to strengthen our relationships, use opportunities to give our children a chance to persist, even argue so they learn to be logical, reasonable and state their case? It doesn’t mean we must cave on our limits; on the contrary, we can empathize, fulfill their needs with imagination, alternatives and simply be kind and firm. If my kiddo wanted another cupcake, things would be more like this over here: “Oh, sounds like those cupcakes sure are delicious. I am saving this last one for myself so I can have one too. I know you wish you could have more. And another day, you can, but today, the answer is no!” The reply on a happy go lucky day would be “ok mom” and on a feistier day “FINE!” and on a less than stellar day “But I want it!" Maybe there would be some tears. I would tell the truth and then we would sort it out and move on.
Our children are supposed to trust us. From keeping them safe to helping them learn about how the world works, as parents we are their first role model, mentor and guide. Telling lies, creating a different reality for whatever reason can really break that trust that a child has in their parent. I wonder, if a child starts to notice that he is being routinely lied to if he would start to question and doubt just about anything the parent says, or all adults for that matter. Perhaps limits and house rules would start being ignored, or whatever mom and dad answer will always need to be carefully considered and weighed because they so often don’t tell the truth. Is it ok to lie until they catch us or better to avoid it all together? Is there a time when risking our child’s trust is worth it? What is the difference between lying to our child versus lying to our spouse?
No matter the age of a child, as parents we expect them to tell us the truth. We want to know if they ate the last piece of chocolate, oh wait that would have been me in this house...Anyways, we want to know if they took a toy away from another child or if they really copied the answer to homework from their schoolmate… We want to know the truth, the whole truth! Certainly we don’t want our children to tell US lies! Often parents will even shame and punish their children for lying but are so quick to tell a lie themselves. Is it ok to lie to our children but demand that they always tell the truth?
In an ideal world; I would say it’s not ok to lie to children. But, I get it, sometimes it’s really tough to face the truth. So I am not judging, because, parenting is so tough, and I probably have lied to my children at some point because EVERYONE lies. I try my very hardest to be honest and when I am unable to answer a question, because I don’t know the answer or feel uncomfortable with the topic or location, I kindly explain that another time is better suited for that discussion.
The world can be a scary and unjust place, just like Devon said. For me, that is all the more reason to make our home a safe, warm, welcoming and trustworthy place to hear the truth and practice dealing with all those emotions as they arise.
So, what do you think? Should parents aim to tell the truth? Is there a time when you think lying really is totally justified?
Peace & Be Well,
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