Have you ever found yourself telling little white lies to your child?
The other day my son wasn’t listening to my husband so he threatened, “If you don’t put your shoes on right now we will leave you home”. In no scenario would we be leaving our nearly 4 year old home alone but in the moment it was easy for my husband to use this to try and get our son to listen to him.
While I’ve always been conscious of not using lies to try and control behaviour I realised that other people might not know why this isn’t an effective strategy.
It’s so easy for us to slip into using small lies to make our life easier in the moment.
Or maybe you are at your wits’ end and you throw out a big lie or empty threat, “If you don’t stop what you are doing right now you won’t be getting anything for your birthday!!!”
An empty threat is something you say in the moment to try and get your child to change their behaviour but it’s something you won’t actually ever follow through on. The old, “you’re grounded for the next year” is a perfect example of this.
Sometimes we can feel uncomfortable responding to our child’s questions so it can be easier to tell a small lie instead. Has your child ever asked you “how babies are made?” This question caught me off guard once!
While we can find it easy to let these small lies slip out there are several reasons why it’s so important to avoid telling lies to your children.
- We want to build a trusting relationship with our children where they feel comfortable to tell us the truth (even when it might mean they get in trouble). If we lie to our children it teaches them that it’s OK to tell lies to us. By being open and honest with them it teaches them it’s OK to be open and honest with you.
- If you use empty threats and lies, such as “you won’t be getting anything for your birthday”, then your child learns that you don’t mean what you say. They learn that you make empty threats and they know you won’t ever follow through with what you say. This is ineffective because your child already knows what you are saying isn’t true, and so it’s not helpful to get them to listen to you or change their behaviour. When my husband threated we would leave our son home it wasn’t effective at all, because he knew it wasn’t true. When he doesn’t want to do something with us and asks to stay home we tell him that he’s not allowed to because it’s not safe for him to be home alone. So he knew my husband wouldn’t follow through on his threat and it was ineffective in getting him to listen and put his shoes on.
- Children are smart little cookies and they can see through the little white lies we tell. Telling lies can lead to arguments as your child tries to prove that you aren’t telling the truth. For example, “the TV is broken”. While this could work the first time eventually your child will know that you are telling them a lie. It’s easier and better in the long run to just be honest,
- Sometimes we can feel uncomfortable or embarrassed to answer our child’s question, for example “how are babies made”. If you make something up in the moment you don’t know what your child will take away from the conversation and remember in years to come. We know how important it is to tell children the proper names of their genitals because it can create safety issues and even shame or issues with body confidence later on. Sometimes the best approach is a straightforward answer even if it makes us uncomfortable.
Now not telling lies to your children doesn’t mean you have to tell them the entire truth about a situation. If they ask you a question about a topic that is not appropriate for them to know about then you need to be selective with what you share and ensure its age appropriate.
Telling the truth doesn’t mean you have to tell your child absolutely everything! You only need to share what is relevant and age appropriate for them at the time.
I hope that the biggest takeaway you have from reading this post is that there generally is no good reason to tell small lies to your child. (The exception to this might be if it would cause unnecessary unrest or upset which where it would create unnecessary unrest.)
Telling lies might make it seem easier in the moment but it’s usually a quite ineffective strategy to use.
Being truthful with your child will help to develop a trusting relationship where your child feels they can be open and honest with you, as you are open and honest with them.