Is Honesty Always the Best Policy With Kids?


Is it possible to teach children without being brutally honest?

A few years back, I caught the dickens for an article I wrote entitled 6 Lies You Should Tell Your Kids. Turns out, some parents have traded their sense of humor for idealistic values. Don’t get me wrong, values are important, but sometimes we have to reach past our idealistic tendencies and reach for the higher purpose. This is especially true when it comes to teaching our children about the world they are growing up in.

There are parents who refuse to bend reality down for children, even if it means making it easy for them to grasp. One example is using anatomically correct labeling for the private parts of a two-year-old.

American culture has adopted a view of children that is disturbing on many levels, like when we treat children like a miniature adults. Over time, this view of childhood has taken its toll.

One good example of the harsh reality imposed on kids is the no tolerance policies in schools. No tolerance for infractions of a rule? More like, no tolerance for childhood and a developing mind. Not only have we lost our understanding of childhood, as a culture we’ve lost the art of softening the edges of the adult world to make it safer for children to handle.

It was once common to teach our children about the world around them — and its dangers — through fables and fairy tales. The story of Hansel and Gretel once kept little German children from wandering into the Black Forest. Pinocchio gave children a glimpse of what happens to “stupid little boys” who refuse to go to school and instead want to live in Pleasure Island.

Not only do I think it’s possible to teach children about the world around them without showing them the naked truth, I think it makes for a richer and safer childhood. To grasp the concept of what I’m talking about, first you have to understand the difference between lying to your children and the art of what I call, age- appropriate storytelling.


Let’s be clear. Lying is a deception usually told to benefit or protect the person doing the talking. Age-appropriate storytelling is told to benefit or protect the person doing the listening.

Before you jump to the comments section on a high-horse, understand that I’m not talking about something as vital as not telling a child he’s adopted. Here’s the rule for age-appropriate storytelling: they will one day, as their minds mature, automatically know the truth and smile.

Softening the world around children as they ease into it, is a critical part of thoughtful parenting. There are plenty of situations and elements of life that are beyond the ability of a child to fully understand. One good example is why a little boy should never go into the men’s public bathroom alone.

Here’s another example: One sweet freckle-faced four-year-old I know was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. Hearing him stop breathing each night was terrifying for his parents. His mother knew her shy boy wouldn’t feel secure sleeping in a room attached to wires and machines filled with strangers so as they walked into the unfamiliar environment, his mama told him a little story:

“We are going in here and spending the night. I told the doctors how special you are and they said I can bring you here. They are going to check you for super-powers. This is where little boys go to find out what kind of super-power they have.” Excitement and dreams of super-hero powers and feats instantly replaced fear and apprehension. Imagination filled the night.

The expression on his face was priceless. This little story his mom told stripped him of all anxiety and added a dash of excitement.

The line separating a lie and a story that protects a child is one that will fade with the passing of time and a maturing mind. There should be no explanation needed. Just a thought or a memory will come to mind and he will instantly know the truth, and more importantly, why the story was told in the first place.

One day, a memory of taped wires and kind strangers will pop back into one little boy’s mind. In an instant, he will know the truth, without any explanation, and be amazed at the wisdom and sense of humor of his mother.

Just in case you were wondering what super-powers were found in him: he can run very fast, and he has the ability to talk to dogs, just as his mom suspected. He’s a pretty special little guy.

 Images via Shutterstock