Honesty isn’t always the best policy when it comes to reasoning with small children. Being totally honest with your children is a noble thought and in a perfect world it would certainly be considered the best practice.
However, the world isn’t perfect, and young children are not compact adults. In fact, the world is too complex and dangerous to expect the under-seven crowd to grasp the total truth on most issues. It’s hard enough trying to get them to grasp personal hygiene, let alone an ugly reality.
Young children possess limited reasoning and coping skills. Just because a child is old enough to ask if his military dad might die in Afghanistan doesn’t mean he should carry the burden of worry every day that his father could be killed.
Lies come in all shades, sizes, and colors. My rules for what constitutes a legal parental lie have more to do with childhood fantasy, health, hygiene, and safety.
If you’re not sure about what constitutes what I call a permissible lie, here is my basic rule of thumb. One day, with a little more age and maturity, my child will not only realize I lied, but also understand why — all in the span of one epiphany.
Establishing truth and trust is important for a healthy, happy childhood. You tell stories to your children and keep them safe, and build trust in your relationship as they grow. Wise parents will do so without destroying their innocence.
A few well-placed lies, or crafted stories handed down from generation to generation, can color a childhood with imagination, protect children from their immaturity, and shield children from the adult burden of understanding the truth of real evil.
From the most harmless fibs to verbal shields of protection, here are six lies we tell our children.
6. Of Course There’s a Tooth Fairy.
It’s not uncommon to tell kids there is a happy round guy who only brings toys to good little boys and girls. This is a generally accepted parental “white” lie. In our family, we chose to neither confirm nor deny the existence of holiday characters. We simply emphasized our faith on religious holidays.
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop us from having fun with the Tooth Fairy.
The deal is the Tooth Fairy wants good teeth. She doesn’t want dirty, unbrushed teeth. She’ll pay top dollar for a well-cared-for tooth.
However, the gig is usually up at around nine or so. That’s about how old my oldest daughter was when she stuck out her hand — palm up and fingers wiggling with expectation.
“Come on, mom. We both know there’s no Tooth Fairy. Why don’t you just give me the money now,” she half-demanded.
“Did you hear that?” I said.
“Listen. Can’t you hear it?”
“What is it?”
“It’s the sound of a dying Tooth Fairy. Every time a child says there’s no such thing as a Tooth Fairy, her Tooth Fairy dies.”
Her eyes narrowed, locking onto mine. She was old enough not to believe in fairy tales, but young enough not to be without a doubt.
Within days she lost several more teeth. She later told me she had picked the wrong week to grow up. More than a couple decades later I received a phone call from that same daughter’s oldest son. I could hear the suspicion in his voice from the minute I answered the phone.
“Yes. Hi, Zach.”
“Can I ask you a question?
“Are there such things as Tooth Fairies?”
I hesitated, and replied trying to sound wise, “What do you think?”
“I think mom puts the money under my pillow — I want to know what you think.”
“I think you just killed your Tooth Fairy.”
There was a brief pause of silence, “Yeah, that’s what mom said.”
The cycle of lies continues…
5. If Kids Drink Coffee It’ll Turn Their Toes Black.
This one was handed down to me by my grandmother and my mother. It actually has done nothing to keep my children from becoming avid coffee drinkers as adults, but it did accomplish two objectives well worth the fib.
First, it kept the little beggars out of my morning coffee.
Second it’s a story they will buy. The truth is, coffee is my water of choice. I tend to drink it in the morning and then again in the late afternoon. If I had started sharing my coffee, I would have had children up until midnight.
This is one case where the truth, when met with tiny brains, totally works against you.
“No you can’t have coffee, because you won’t be able to sleep at night.”
You might have well said, “No. You can’t go to the zoo, because it’ll be way too much fun.” To a five year old, you have just told him that you are drinking the magic potion of adults. Coffee is the stuff that makes them stay up all night and do all the fun things they can only imagine.
Nope. Sorry kid, I’d love to help you out, but it will turn your toes black.
4. If You Play With It, It Will Fall Off and You’ll Turn Into a Girl
Ok, so this could be playing on a little boy’s greatest fear. I really don’t care; in my book, it’s fair game.
First they find their toes Then they find the holes in their face, and try to shove as many fingers as they can inside. It doesn’t take long to find their favorite toy. While they’re babies the layers and velcro usually can keep their hands in plain sight.
Once potty training comes around, they have way too much access. Frankly, a busy mom can’t wash a toddler’s hands enough to make diaper toys a safe alternative to Tonka trucks.
It’s hard enough to convince a toddler that it’s unacceptable to fill your britches in public. Explaining why can’t you walk down the grocery store aisle with your hands stuck down your pants is a non-starter.
“Because it will fall off, honey. Then you’ll turn into a girl, and mommy will have to buy you all new pink clothes….”
3. Picking Your Nose and Eating Your Boogers Will Give You Nose Cancer.
I know. This seems harsh. It is.
This is a last-ditch effort. If you have never had a chronic booger-picking-booger-eating kid, consider yourself lucky. It’s not pretty.
Frankly, I think there’s been an epidemic of socially unconscious kids. I’ve seen more kids digging in their face for an afternoon snack lately. Apparently, their parents have used the old, “Don’t do that. It’s not nice” line. Well, that’s fine if it works. But drastic times calls for drastic measures.
If you have a chronic booger eater, try: “Oh, honey. Don’t eat that! It will give you nose cancer. Here, let’s Google it together.”
By the time he’s old enough to actually read the medical causes and cures for nose cancer, the habit should be broken.
2. It’s Chicken.
I’m going to give parents the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that we want our children to eat healthy. For some kids, it’s the old “You can lead a horse to water…” theory.
Here’s the traditional advice:
By teaching your children healthy eating habits, you can keep them at a healthy weight. Also, the eating habits your children pick up when they are young will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults.
Other approaches parents can take to develop healthy eating habits in their children include:
- Guide your family’s choices rather than dictate foods. Make a wide variety of healthful foods available in the house. This practice will help your children learn how to make healthy food choices.
Or you can lie.
Just tell them it’s chicken and skip the drama. I know fish doesn’t smell like chicken. By the time they’ve figured that one out, it’s a healthy family favorite.
And frankly, I’d have to lie to my husband to get him to eat tofu.
1. No. That’s Not a “Girls'” Bathroom.
I’m willing to bet a month of pacifiers that every mother has had this conversation with her little boy at one time or another. It usually goes something like this, in the middle of the busiest day, with a cart full of groceries.
Little Bobby has to go potty. He starts squirming, and the two of you head off to the bathroom. The boy looks up and sees the picture of the girl on the door and panics. That’s a girls’ room! He can’t go in there!
This can get ugly real fast. A firm refusal to go into said room will end in wet clothes or even worse. Option number two is sending a little boy unaccompanied into a men’s bathroom. That is a disaster that can range from a urinal fishing expedition to discovering what evil can lurk behind a bathroom stall. What do you do?
My theory — lie.
Here’s your story:
No, honey. See that girl on the front of the door? And over there, the man on that one? That means that you go in this one with your mommy, and that one with your daddy.