Should you always tell the truth to your children? Depends

(CNN) – I don’t tell my kids the truth all the time.
I tell them that the spinach in their muffins enhances the flavor of the chocolate chips. I tell them that their drawings are precious even if they look like stains of nothing. I also tell bigger lies, trying to convince myself that I protect them by hiding details of our lives and saying that I know what is best, even when I worry not knowing.

Parents lie by omission when we omit details to preserve the innocence of our children about the world in general, softening the harshest edges of life. And some parents don’t share secrets about family scandals, crime, or parenting.

Although some parents swear they don’t lie, I’m sure many of us do. However, I wonder if I should lie, either by omission or outright.

I realize that there is probably a different line in the sand for each family, and that it can change over time. Although we know our children better than anyone and think we know what they can endure, experts have some guidelines on when to lie to your children.

What is a lie?

This illustration represents the story of young George Washington cutting the cherry tree, a popular tale that highlights the importance of honesty.

A lie, in the simplest definition, is saying something that is not true. We teach our children that lying is wrong.

Mythology, like the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, preach that honesty is the best policy. Fables like that of Peter and the wolf they warn of the dire consequences of lies. However, we continue to lie.

If you have studied philosophy or seen “The Good Place,” you know that intellectuals have been debating the definition of lying for thousands of years, as well as the question of when, if at all, it is okay to lie. For some people, that depends on the types of lies, as each type of lie is defined by the reason for lying.

Why are you lying?

Sometimes we lie to preserve the magic of childhood, like the tooth fairy or the “Tooth Fairy.” Sometimes we lie to protect our children from what we consider to be age-inappropriate topics.

“Normally, we lie to our children out of kindness, because we don’t want them to be upset or have to face the horrible things in the world,” he says. Judi Ketteler, author of “Would I Lie to You.” These “nice” lies are called prosocial lies.

“It can be a commission lie, purposely telling false statements, an omission lie, or a half-truth, like admitting that a loved one had an accident, but not admitting that they caused the accident because they were drinking,” Ketteler said.

When it comes to handling potentially traumatic situations, caregivers “should see a family therapist who specializes in these kinds of things,” Ketteler urged.

It’s important to analyze yourself to find out why you lie to a minor, Ketteler said. Ask yourself if you are lying to benefit your children or if you lie more to benefit yourself. “That is a self-serving lie,” he said.

As much as it may be hard for us to admit that we screw up as human beings and as parents, these ego-based lies are not necessarily kind or healthy for your children.

Why is it okay to lie to children by default?

Many experts believe that lying by omission is not a lie.

“When it comes to children, you have to omit parts of the truth because you have to take into account the broader context of their development,” he says. Amy stoeber, an Oregon psychologist specializing in trauma in children and families. Setting a limit based on your child’s age, maturity, and personality is not a lie. It is what we have to do as parents to protect our children.

To the writer Dove bennett She has a hard time talking to her children, ages 5 and 2, about police brutality. She says, “When we come across the police, I don’t dare tell them the truth.”

The truth can be traumatizing. But for black parents like Bennett, who plans to tell their children when they turn 10 why they shouldn’t feel so much trust towards the police, the discussion will be necessary to try to keep them safe.

Tell the whole truth? It is a development issue

How much should you reveal to your child? That depends on many factors, including age.

When we talk to our children about sex or other sensitive topics, we don’t need to tell them the whole story.
“Any conversation worth having is worth having a hundred times over,” says Stoeber. Each time a conversation arises, more details can be added as deemed developmentally appropriate.

How to handle divorce

A common sticking point on this issue is divorce.

Most divorcing parents choose to skip the details, such as infidelity, addiction, and abuse. Stoeber says you don’t tell the whole story because you don’t want to “defame your father or mother.”

Divorce is a special situation. Legally, it is best to keep the details secret.

“A parent who is otherwise considered stable could be viewed as irresponsible during a custody battle if it is discovered that they gave inappropriate details that were detrimental to the child’s mental state or well-being,” says Kem L. Marks, lawyer of Just in Time Legal Solutions in Alabama.

She advises clients not to reveal details that could be considered inappropriate for the child’s development or that could be construed as a tactic to turn one parent against the other. Telling the truth, in this case, is not worth the risk.

However, Stoeber said that it is okay, when asked why you are divorcing, to tell your child that the reasons are for “adult content” and that he is “not ready to know yet.” That word “still” speaks of a growth mindset and gives your child a feeling of secure attachment. A good attachment is not lying to manipulate. It is an act of love to take care of the emotional health of your child.

The truth usually comes out

At the end of the day, the truth comes out.

Children who are lied to tend to fill in the gaps themselves, which can lead to misinformation, mistrust and a greater likelihood of becoming liars, Ketteler and Stoeber note. citing various investigations.

“It is important to protect minors and not overload them with things from the adult world. But at a point, nothing can be hidden from them. Even the youngest children know how to ask Siri things, ”Ketteler said.

To help manage these conversations, “Create a culture in your family where you can talk about anything at any time. Be an open door for your children. Create an atmosphere of trust. You have to talk about sensitive issues over and over again, “advises Stoeber.

Whenever a possible opportunity arises to omit something, assess your child’s personality, temperament, age, development and emotional state to serve as a guide, not to lie to him, but to tell him the truth in a kind way. loving and adequate.

I may have to open up to my kids about the spinach lie. They seem to have realized the story of the Tooth Fairy, but they keep playing with me to make money. As for the big lies, I will watch, wait, and ask for advice when the time is right.

–Laura Wheatman Hill lives in Portland, Oregon, with her two children. You can find it on their website.

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