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The Six Worst Lies Parents Tell Their Kids

By Edited Sep 20, 2015 4 11

White Lies and Serious Lies

There is a Difference!

Every parent lies to their children. We are lying when we tell them stories about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy. Later, we may cover these white lies by explaining that we were just sharing old fashioned fairy tales with them. We often lie when we tell them how talented, smart and beautiful they are. While these lies are understandable, and even socially acceptable, we need to be more careful when we decide to lie to our children in order to protect them. Often, these lies can do more harm than good. Unfortunately, children cannot be protected from reality and, when we try, we often end up with children who distrust us, and feel hurt.



Lying to Your Children about Family Finances

We all have the urge to protect our children from the difficulties we are experiencing. That is understandable. However, if a parent goes to such an extreme that they continue to give their children lavish gifts and send them on expensive trips, while the parents are sinking further and further into debt, they are not doing their children any favors.

Parents need to practice bringing their children into budget discussions. You don’t have to go into too much detail. However, it is certainly reasonable to tell your children that your family has, for example, only $200 left over at the end of the month to spend on extras. Let them help you decide how to spend the money that is left … how much should go for purchases, entertainment, etc. If they take part in these decisions, they will be learning important skills and they are less likely to constantly beg you for money. You will be learning something important, too. You will discover that you really don’t have to lie to your kids about your family finances.

If Dad loses his job, or the family is experiencing unusually large medical bills, the children need to be told. There is nothing wrong with reassuring them that Mom and Dad still have some income, and will continue to be able to take care of them. However, it is only fair and honest to explain that there is likely to be less money than ever left over at the end of the month, and everyone will have to pitch in to make sure the family income goes as far as possible. Kids do not need to be protected from this reality. They simply like to know the facts, so they know what to expect.

Telling Children They Can Be Anything They Want to Be

This lie often causes children to have unrealistic expectations and may result in their feeling unsuccessful and disappointed later in life. It may also confuse them. If people can be anything they want to be, why are there so many people in low paying, unsatisfying jobs? It is far better to teach your children that they are unique, and they have special gifts that they can develop. While they may never be a doctor or lawyer, they may be able to become an artist or a teacher. We also need to teach them that all work is honorable and worthwhile.

As a parent, it is important to encourage our children to find the right path for themselves. This means that we also must help them find realistic, achievable goals, so they don’t feel continually frustrated. Your child may not be able to become the next Steve Jobs. However, he might be able to learn to use computers so effectively that he is able to become a successful employee.  It is more important that parents encourage children to excel in the areas where they are talented, rather than glibly tell them that they can be anything they want to be ... or think they should be.

Lying to Children about a Serious Illness

I once worked with a student whose mother had advanced breast cancer. Even as she was continuing to decline in her health, she continued to tell her teenage son that she would be better soon. His father and other relatives supported her lies, both because they wanted to protect him and because they didn’t want to upset her.

Then one day, while he was at school, his aunt came to get him. His mother had died. After a few days of mourning, the boy returned to school. For years afterwards, he was a serious discipline problem. It is impossible to say if his behavior would have been different without the lies. However, he frequently expressed anger and resentment that no one had told him his mother was dying.

It would have been far better to let him know how serious his mother’s illness was and that, although she was fighting it, there was a possibility that she might not survive. Perhaps the mother and son could have gone to a therapist together; they might have spent some special time with each other; she might have had an opportunity to share her own beliefs about life and death. By lying to him, she denied them both the opportunity to prepare for her death.

Lying to Children about Death

Parents often lie to their children about death. These lies often leave children feeling confused and, depending on the nature of the lie, insecure. If you tell you child that “grandma went to sleep,” you may inadvertently be causing your child to develop problems with insomnia. If grandma can go to sleep and never wake up, a child may become fearful of falling asleep.

It is actually far kinder to explain to a child that everyone, even animals, can only live a certain length of time. Death is a natural part of life. Include an explanation of your religious beliefs about death. Allow your child the freedom to grieve their loss, and let them see you grieving. It will also help to look at photos of the loved one, and talk about happy memories that you have. Teach them the joy of celebrating the wonderful life that the person lived.

Lying to Children about Sex

It is always important to teach your children about reproduction in ways that are age appropriate and in keeping with your religious beliefs and personal standards. That does not mean you should ignore the topic completely. If you do, your children are going to ask other children, or try to get their questions answered on the internet. If you don’t give them a reasonable answer to their questions, they will find someone who will … and you will probably not be happy with the answers that strangers will give them.

If you are uncomfortable talking to your children about this topic, ask your minister, librarian or your child’s teacher if they can recommend an age appropriate book. Don’t just toss them the book and never bring up the subject again. Instead, you and your child should read the book together, and discuss it, just as you would a book about history, music, religion or any other topic.

Telling Children Lies That Could Embarrass Them

We may think it is cute to misdirect our children when they ask us what a bad word means. However, even if we don’t want to go into all the details, we should at least give them a general idea of what the word means and that it is not considered a very nice word. If we pretend to them that it means something entirely different, they could use the word and end up being embarrassed. In addition, they will no longer trust their parents to tell them the truth. It is far better to give them an age appropriate explanation that to completely tell them a falsehood!

The bottom line is that there is probably very little harm in lying to your children about Santa Claus. However, parents need to think carefully before they tell their children lies that may have lasting consequences.

Related articles:

The Five Worst Lies Teachers Tell Their Students



You May Be Interested in Reading More About Lying to Kids

This Includes the Lies They are Told by Teachers, too!

Dangerous Lies We Tell to Children and Ourselves
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Sep 20, 2015)
This book will make you think twice before you decide to lie to your child or your students again. Children can handle the truth. Sometimes it is the adults who are uncomfortable with it.


May 3, 2012 8:10pm
Thank you for your article! I agree, parents shouldn't lie about the most important things in life (and you have *the* most important on your list)
May 5, 2012 6:14pm
Never thought much about it till now. Great eye opening article...
Thank you!
May 6, 2012 10:17pm
A well-written, thought provoking article for parents. Good job!
May 22, 2012 1:24am
Nice article!
May 24, 2012 12:00pm
As a kid I and another friend told a third friend about menstruating. She ran home and told her mother who said "That only happens to bad girls." Imagine her shock when it happened to her! Great article. I agree it's eye opening!
Jun 13, 2012 1:35pm
You know as a person who rites about children and family life, I truly appreciate your article. 5 stars from me! One thing for sure--nearly all of our probelms can be traced back to our earliest socialization--all the truth and the lies of it!
May 6, 2014 8:25am
Thank you all for your positive comments about these lies. I was actually shocked when I began to do the research on how damaging these lies can be.
Jun 30, 2014 2:01am
Good article and important to get it straight from the beginning. I had to learn the facts of life at boarding school from my friends. But then I was old enough - but still horrified.
Jun 30, 2014 10:23pm
People who lie to their children about important things often cause them to have a lot of mental problems later in life ... such as depression, insecurity, and anxiety. Why bring that on?
Jun 30, 2014 11:54am
If you haven't lied to your children then you haven't been a parent.
Jun 30, 2014 10:16pm
Yes, everyone lies to their kids. However, some lies are worse than others ... especially when it can hurt their future.
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