Should You Lie to Your Kids?

Teaching kids to value the truth


Among all the questions and issues parents struggle with, the issue of whether we should lie to our kids or not is one of the toughest -- it combines emotional, logical and moral reasoning into one big ethical ball.

"I couldn't get through the day without a couple of cheap lies aimed at my adorable and somewhat gullible children," said one mom.

It could be a pragmatic decision we make on the fly -- a small fib told for the greater good. Or it could be a life lesson we don't think they're prepared for, or want to shield them from, to spare them pain and heartache.

So much depends, of course, on how the age of the children, on the topic at hand, on the circumstances and situations. But it's safe to say most of us have told at least one flat-out untruth while raising our young children.

Are we doing them a disservice, however, by not being honest with them about certain important life issues? Where is the "lying line"?

, a pediatrician and bestselling author who lives and works in northern Michigan, has been caring for children for several decades and raised four children of her own. "Lying to children, or anyone, never leads them to truth and every strong relationship is predicated upon truth," she told LifeZette.

"Furthermore, when parents lie to children about important issues, children quickly learn to not trust them and this fractures the foundation of the most important relationship in a child's life," she said. "This does not mean that a parent should explicitly force painful truth onto a child. Rather, the parent must be empathetic and ginger when handling hard subjects with children, balancing truth with compassion."

She added an important distinction: "Telling lies to children is different from allowing them to participate in fantasy, which is part of normal healthy child development. For instance, many children in early elementary school fabricate 'friendships' with imaginary friends -- and playing along with these fantasies and allowing the child to dissolve them in a developmentally appropriate fashion is prudent."

Parents themselves shared a wide variety of opinions on the topic when LifeZette reached out. Here is some of what we heard.

'Yes, You Can Lie About Some Things'

"I couldn't get through the day without a couple of cheap lies aimed at my adorable and somewhat gullible children. Sometimes little fibs save them from pain. Sometimes it's to save me from pain," said one mom in Alexandria, Virginia. "For example, I like to save myself from the pain of hearing them complain about the meal they are about to be served by either not telling them what we are eating -- a lie by omission -- or by flat-out saying, "I don't know what I'm making yet.'"

"How else do you answer the question: 'Why was your bedroom door locked?'"

She added, "On some issues I make a point to be clean and honest -- death, religion, and sex questions, for example. But almost any other topic is fair game if it will prevent unnecessary tears, theirs or mine."

Said one mom in northern New Jersey who is now a grandmother as well, "I felt I had to tell a few fibs when raising my children. It seemed the only way to go at the time -- it was my way of trying to be resourceful while handling what seemed a million things."

A mom in Lexington, Kentucky, said this: "Magical thinking, money matters, fried zucchini that might be french fries ... the small things that enhance childhood are OK in my book."

And a dad told us this: "How else do you answer the question: 'Why was the door to your room locked?'"

'No, You Cannot Lie, Ever'

"It's perfectly OK to lie to children if you want to lose their trust," a mom in Louisville, Kentucky, said. "And if you want them to deceive you and everyone else they meet in life -- and if authenticity is meaningless in your life. 'I can't answer that question right now' was my go-to response to my kids to avoid an easy lie to tough questions."

A mom in Arlington, Virginia, explained, "I mostly tell the truth even if it's above their understanding and uncomfortable for me to admit. I try to frame it positively."

A mom in New York said this: "I don't believe in lying to children. They need to hear the blunt truth from their parents. It's part of being a responsible mom or dad. It may seem harsh, but to me it's about teaching them what they need to know -- and if they're asking about something sensitive, that tells me they're ready to hear what's really going on."

One mom in Aiken, South Carolina, shared the middle ground: "There are so many situations where one weighs the impact of the truth versus the impact of the 'other' answer. I do strive for truth at all costs, but there have been times when option B has been the right answer, in my opinion. As my teenage boys mature, I find that truth wins far more often."