Why It's Okay to Lie to Your Child (Sometimes)
When I was at the store picking up more milk and cereal a couple of years ago, I bought superhero underwear on sale for my 4-year-old son, Jack. I also bought a pair of cute polka-dot socks for me, because all my socks had holes in them. I didn't buy my 7-year-old daughter anything.
I realized my tactical error the moment I walked through the door.
Jack pulled out his new underwear and launched into his happy dance. Annie looked betrayed. "Nothing for me?!"
I thought fast. "These cute polka-dot socks!" I said, handing her the pair. This appeased her (even if they were too big), and disharmony was averted for the night. Too bad I had to keep lying every time I wanted to wear "her" socks.
Moms aren't supposed to lie -- ever. But, of course, we routinely do. Our fibs can be damaging -- or not. It all depends on how and when we tell them.
How we justify them: Anyone who's ever hoped to get through most of the day without a tantrum understands why telling less than the truth can be rationalized. "There should be another word for what moms say to their kids sometimes," says Deb Widner-Cannon, a mom of five in Columbus, Ohio. "'Lying' is too strong."
When they're okay: Little white lies can be a convenient way to get around saying no. When Kate Taylor's 3-year-old daughter smelled chocolate on her breath, Taylor said, "That's my face lotion. I'm eating raisins. Want one?" Taylor, of Portland, Oregon, says that while she may sometimes need her secret chocolate stash, her daughter doesn't need the sugar and caffeine.
Experts agree that this sort of situational bending of the truth isn't likely to harm your child. In fact, she probably won't even notice.
Widner-Cannon found this out when her daughter Chelsea was a toddler, and Chelsea thought the ice cream truck was simply the "music truck" come to spread joy. "We just didn't bother correcting her," says her mom.
One day a neighbor bought her daughter her first ice cream from the truck. "She was delighted. She came to me covered in Creamsicle and said, 'Mommy, the music-truck guy decided to start selling ice cream! Isn't that a great idea?' I agreed that it was, and left it at that," Widner-Cannon says.
The downside: Constant little fibs can be a crutch -- allowing you to avoid putting your foot down. Invoking the all-powerful "I said no, because..." is unpleasant at first, but it's the better strategy in the long run, at least most of the time.
What also works? Redirection, especially with the toddler set. Just explain why something can't go the way your child would like and get her interested in something else.
Julie Tilsner blogs at badhomecooking.com.