25 Things You Should Never Lie to Your Children About
These seemingly small fibs can lead to big trouble down the line.
Even the most honest parents have a habit of fibbing to their kids from time to time. We tell them that Santa Claus is real; we tell them that their eyes will get stuck if they keep rolling them at us; and some of us even tell them that the ice cream truck only plays its song when it’s empty. However, there’s a pretty major difference between an innocuous lie and one that can indelibly harm your kids—and it’s important to know the difference.
“Lying to children begets more lying to maintain the original lie,” says licensed therapist Rose Skeeters, LPC, PN2, NCC, an early childhood trauma specialist with Thrive: Mind/Body in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. “Children will eventually discover the truth along with the deception that comes with creating an elaborate web of lies. This will cause a breakdown in attachment and communication as well as distrust.” So, before you ruin your relationship with your child, read on to discover the things you should never lie to your kids about.
Leaving them somewhere
Think twice before telling your kids that they’ll be left behind if they don’t follow your rules. “Firstly, that can be really scary to a child,” says therapist Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center. “Causing someone to fear abandonment, literally, is harmful to their emotional wellbeing. Secondly, you almost certainly don’t mean it, and leveling empty threats at your children weakens your authority with them rather than strengthening it.”
Past mistakes you’ve made
Everyone messes up from time to time—parents included. And if your past is full of missteps your kids could potentially learn from, it’s better to fess up now and control the narrative.
“You can’t be perfect, and teaching your children that they can and should be is a one-way ticket to disaster!” says Carla Buck, MA, LMCHA, mental health therapist at Warrior Brain, based in Dubai. “Role modeling mistake-making and then repairing the mistake for your child is going to teach them so much more than pretending you had it all figured out to begin with.”
When you’re wrong
As hard as it can be to admit, even parents mess up sometimes. If you’re not willing to let your kids know that even you get things wrong every now and then, you’re putting up barriers to communication and setting a precedent for dishonesty and stubbornness.
When you’re getting a divorce
Letting your kids operate under the impression that everything is fine in your marriage right up to the day you sign those divorce papers can create serious trust issues and a sense of insecurity that your children likely won’t be able to get over that easily.
“Lying can make a tough time even more difficult when—not if—kids ultimately learn the truth about what’s going on,” says Los Angeles-based certified family law specialist Steven Fernandez. “Being honest doesn’t mean telling the kids every detail about what’s going on. If parents are getting divorced because of infidelity, it might not be necessary to disclose that particular detail at this point in time, especially if the kids are very young. You can still be honest and explain that mom and dad won’t be together anymore because they’ve grown apart, which is something that sometimes happens in relationships.”
Sure, your preschooler might insist no matter what that you’re only 12 years old to all their friends, but actively lying to them about your age can backfire in time. Not only is this a lie someone—maybe even your spouse—is certain to correct them on at some point, but it also sends the message that there’s something undesirable about getting older.
A death in the family
Not telling your kids that their grandpa died or saying that their dearly departed cat went to “live on a farm upstate” will eventually create some serious distrust between you and your children. While it’s never easy to discuss death with kids, giving them the idea that an important person or creature in their life could be spending time with them but is simply choosing not to will make them feel unwanted and abandoned.
The same advice goes for family estrangements. When you tell your kids that someone is dead when they’re just not in your life anymore, it’s likely to cause some major tension when the truth is discovered. If your kid feels like they’ve been cheated out of a relationship with a family member, it can indelibly strain their relationship with you.
Why they need to listen to specific safety rules
Warning your kids that they’ll be snatched by monsters if they don’t buckle their seatbelts might work for a while, but eventually they are going to question this logic and may even stop obeying you altogether. While it may be a heavy discussion to have, explaining the actual consequences if they violate specific safety rules will make them to heed those warnings.
Innocuous things “harming” their bodies
Will a watermelon seed grow into a watermelon if it’s swallowed? Does gum take seven years to digest? Of course, the answers to these questions are clearly resounding “no’s,” but little kids who hear these tall tales can become seriously stressed out about causing themselves unintended harm for no good reason.
When something is actually going to hurt
Of course you don’t want to make your kids fearful every time they go to the doctor, but telling them that things won’t hurt when they definitely will can foster a sense of distrust between you. Worse yet, doing so can make it feel as though you’re diminishing their pain, making it harder for them to tell you when something is actually wrong.
Your medical history
Your family history of diabetes or heart disease probably isn’t that relevant to your kids when they’re little, but keeping your children in the dark about these potentially heritable diseases can impact their health as they get older. Though there’s no reason to inform your five-year-old that most of your family members died of heart attacks before they turned 50, keeping that information from your teenage and young adult children could inadvertently put them in harm’s way.
Your mental health status
It’s not just physical health issues that you should be transparent with your kids about. Your mental health matters, too. If you or members of your family are prone to depression or other mental health issues, letting your kids know can help de-stigmatize those issues and give your children insight into what’s happening if and when they find themselves dealing with them.
Your legal history
You might not be proud of your run-ins with the law, but not letting your kids know the truth about your record can lead to trust and honesty issues down the line.
“They might be upset or confused at first, but by telling them about what’s going on, you’re able to control the narrative and make sure that they’re getting the whole story,” explains criminal defense attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez of The Rodriguez Law Group in Los Angeles, California. “You have the ability to help them process what’s going on and understand how it might affect them and the family as a whole. You’ll also be showing your kids that you trust them and see them as mature, growing individuals. By lying, you could end up making things worse and putting a strain on your relationship and setting a precedent for less-than-honest communication.”
Your overall happiness
It’s not appropriate for you to unload all of your feelings onto your kids. But, on the other hand, pretending you’re happy when you’re not can also have serious repercussions.
“This creates a false sense of reality of what happiness is and looks like,” explains licensed professional counselor and parenting expert Gretchen Campbell of North Carolina. “I’ve worked with many families who put up a façade for years and then tell the children they are getting divorced on the day one parent is moving out of the home. Children have often verbalized feeling lied to and feeling like their life was a lie.”
Your marital status
Whether you decided that marriage just isn’t for you or you’re waiting to tie the knot, lying about your marital status to your kids can have surprisingly deleterious—and potentially even legal—effects. Though it may not seem like that big of a deal, when your kid has to fill out financial paperwork for student loans, they’ll need to know whether or not you were hitched when they entered this world.
Their adoption status
Telling a child that they’re adopted is never an easy conversation for a parent to have, but lying about it is always worse. According to Campbell, not being honest about your child’s adoption status “can potentially lead to identity confusion and resentment as he or she gets older.”
Your educational background
Telling your kids that they need to attend college to rise to your own level of success is always a problematic statement, but it’s particularly problematic when you haven’t actually attended or never earned a degree. When your child finds out that you didn’t have the academic success you claim to have had, it’s safe to assume that they will use this as an excuse not to go to college, either.
Your family budget
You don’t want to scare your kids into thinking you’re on the verge of being penniless at any moment. At the same time, being realistic about your finances can pay dividends in the long run. Instead of carefully avoiding any talk of cash flow or making it seem like you have an endless supply of money, explain to your kids that money is the result of hard work and clue them in to some age-appropriate budgeting information. Doing so can set them up for greater success in the long run.
What you can and can’t afford
Do you have to buy your kids everything your bank account allows for? Of course not. That said, telling your kids they can’t have certain things because you can’t afford them when you can not only doesn’t teach them the appropriate lesson—that they don’t get presents whenever they ask for them—but it can also create a sense of financial insecurity that can lead to serious stress.
How credit works
Giving your kids access to credit without an adequate explanation of how it works is a lie by omission that can set them up for major financial issues down the line.
“Never lie to your child or teen about the ease of use of a credit card. Don’t hand it out to your child as if everyone just gets given one in life,” says Buck. “Handing over a credit card to your child is teaching them they don’t have to respect their own boundaries or limits and that there is little worth in knowing what those boundaries and limits are. That will do more damage to your child or young adult than you’ll ever know.”
Your “allergies” to pets
If you’ve been lying to your kids about having severe allergies to pets as a means of avoiding their requests for a puppy, you will be found out one day. For the sake of your kids’ feelings and to avoid an argument, it’s better to just admit that you don’t want to pick up after a giant ball of fur and them.
Their “allergies” to food
Telling your kids that they’re allergic to ice cream or French fries may seem like a means of deterring them from eating those foods, but it can quickly backfire. When they find out that they’re not allergic, they may think it’s okay to play it fast and loose with foods that they actually are allergic to—ones that could trigger a potentially harmful reaction.
How babies are made
Of course your kids don’t need to know about the ins and out of your sex life. However, it pays to answer honestly when they ask about where babies come from. Not only will this make them way less worried about a giant bird leaving surprise newborns in the garden, but it’s also a useful lesson—one that can help prevent unintended pregnancy, especially if their school has an abstinence-only sex ed policy.
Your expectations of them
Setting clear expectations for your kids can make everyone’s lives a lot easier in the long run. When you install keystroke logger software on their devices, tell them; if you want them to do something academic over the summer, tell them. If you’re not being transparent, you can—and will—quickly erode the trust you’ve built with them.
Who’s monitoring their behavior
While telling your kids that they have to behave because Santa’s always watching may seem like an easy solution, doing so is only going to work for so long. (And what incentive do they have to keep following the rules once they find out the truth about Santa?) Instead, tell your kids that you’re the one who sees them when they’re sleeping and who knows when they’re awake. And if you want to foster a healthy relationship with your kids, start with these 40 Parenting Hacks for Raising an Amazing Kid.
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