Difficult Questions and Lies: 4 Reasons to Tell the Truth

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parenting and telling lies

Welcome to the March 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Tough Conversations

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have spoken up about how they discuss complex topics with their children. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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Should parents always tell the truth or are there times when telling a lie is actually OK?

Let’s be honest,  many parents lie, some occasionally, others quite often. The reasons vary, like being afraid to set a limit or saying no, avoiding complicated topics like sexual education, death and illness or simply not knowing what to say. Parents also might lie about social situations or support fairy tales and imagination with stories about the tooth fairy and Santa-Claus.

While imagination, fantasy, play and magic in childhood is…magical… lying to avoid important conversations, setting a limit or  explaining certain aspects about life can really be harmful to the parent child relationship. Here are four reasons to avoid lies and four reasons to strive to tell the truth:

Lying leads to Missed Opportunities

Sometimes parents tell lies to protect their children’s feelings. Although I do not remember doing this deliberately, I do understand there may be a time when  explaining certain things becomes complicated.  Yet, children do need to feel their feelings, even if it is disappointment, fear or being displeased.  Through these difficult moments, such as discovering that the dog shred their lovely which was forgotten by the sofa, or that sparky the fish is floating because he is dead (not sleeping or going to play at the flush park on the other side of the toilet lid) that children learn to accept, regulate and understand their feelings.  All these moments, no matter how emotionally difficult are teachable moments, moments in which children can learn about responsibility (remember to clean up that lovey), learn about the cycle of life, grief and loss (good bye sparky), and learn about health boundaries and empathy too. It’s much more positive to be honest and say  “sorry, I am too tired to visit the library today, let’s think of something else we can do!” than to pretend the library is closed for example.

Lying Models The Easy Way Out

Sometimes, it may seem easier to say that the stork brings babies, or that the grocery is out of marshmallows than to brave a tricky subject, stick to our limits or deal with potential disappointment.   But, don’t we want our children to come to us for information and feel confident that they are learning about their interests? Do we want our child to respect us and understand we are the parents and there are limits in the household?  Should we really take the easy route or look for ways to strengthen our relationships, use opportunities to give our children a chance ask questions and learn?  Telling the truth may be more difficult but in doing so, we can be empathetic, offer valid information, and if we must set a limit, we can do with kindness.

When Lying, We Risk Breaking Trust

Our children are supposed to trust us. From keeping them safe to helping them learn about how the world works, discovering parents have lied can really break that trust that a child has in their parent.   If a child starts to notice that he is being routinely lied to,  would he start to question and doubt just about anything the parent says, or all adults for that matter? Perhaps limits and house rules would start being ignored, or whatever mom and dad answer will always need to be double checked because they so often don’t tell the truth.   Is there a time when risking our child’s trust is truly worth it?

parenting lying

When we Lie, We Do the Opposite of What We Expect

No matter the age of a child, we often expect them to tell us the truth.  We want to know for example,  if they took a toy away from another child or if they really copied the answer to homework from their school mate. We want to know the truth, the whole truth! Certainly we don’t want our children to tell us lies.  Often parents will even shame and punish their children for lying but are so quick to tell a lie themselves. When we lie to our children we are therefore doing the opposite of what we expect.  Is it OK to lie to our children but demand that they always tell the truth?

So what about when a really tricky question comes up at the wrong time?

Children can ask questions at all sorts of odd times, questions we’d rather not discuss without first giving some thought. That’s really alright. I try my very hardest to be honest and when I am unable to answer a question, because I don’t know the answer or feel uncomfortable with the topic or location, I kindly explain that another time is better suited for that discussion. The more honest I am with my children, the more they trust that they will receive the information that they seek. Plus, it’s really alright to ask our children to wait at times as long as we make a point to return to those questions at a later time and answer at an age appropriate level.  Being open to all sorts of questions, at any time, even if I cannot answer right away is my attempt to make our home a safe, warm, welcoming and trustworthy place to practice dealing with any questions and any emotions as they arise. So, what do you think? Should parents aim to tell the truth or are there certain questions that merit a white or social lie?

Peace  & Be Well,

Ariadne

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon March 12 with all the carnival links.)

  • A Difficult Conversation — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is keeping her mouth shut about a difficult topic.
  • Discussing Sexuality and Objectification With Your Child — At Authentic Parenting, Laura is puzzled at how to discuss sexuality and objectification with her 4-year-old.
  • Tough Conversations — Kadiera at Our Little Acorn knows there are difficult topics to work through with her children in the future, but right now, every conversation is a challenge with a nonverbal child.
  • Real Talk — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama explains why there are no conversation topics that are off limits with her daughter, and how she ensures that tough conversations are approached in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  • From blow jobs to boob jobs and lots of sex inbetweenMrs Green talks candidly about boob jobs and blow jobs…
  • When Together Doesn’t Work — Ashley at Domestic Chaos discusses the various conversations her family has had in the early stages of separation.
  • Talking To Children About Death — Luschka at Diary of a First Child is currently dealing with the terminal illness of her mother. In this post she shares how she’s explained it to her toddler, and some of the things she’s learned along the way.
  • Teaching 9-1-1 To Kids — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling talks about the importance of using practical, age-appropriate emergency scenarios as a springboard for 9-1-1 conversations.
  • Preschool Peer PressureLactating Girl struggles to explain to her preschooler why friends sometimes aren’t so friendly.
  • Frank Talk — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis unpacks a few conversations about sexuality that she’s had with her 2-year-old daughter, and her motivation for having so many frank discussions.
  • When simple becomes tough — A natural mum manages oppositional defiance in a toddler at Ursula Ciller’s Blog.
  • How Babies are Born: a conversation with my daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger tries to expand her daughter’s horizons while treading lightly through the waters of pre-K social order.
  • Difficult Questions & Lies: 4 Reasons to Tell The Truth — Ariadne of Positive Parenting Connection shares the potential impact that telling lies instead of taking the time to answer difficult questions can have on the parent-child relationship.
  • Parenting Challenges–when someone dies — Survivor at Surviving Mexico writes about talking to her child about death and the cultural challenges involved in living in a predominantly Catholic nation.
  • Daddy Died — Breaking the news to your children that their father passed away is tough. Erica at ChildOrganics shares her story.
  • Opennesssustainablemum prepares herself for the day when she has to tell her children that a close relative has died.
  • Embracing Individuality — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy addressed a difficult question in public with directness and honesty.
  • Making the scary or different okay — Although she tries to listen more than she talks about tough topics, Jessica Claire of Crunchy-Chewy Mama also values discussing them with her children to soften the blow they might cause when they hit closer to home.
  • Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama concluded that her family would benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet, she came up with a plan to persuade her gluten-loving son to find peace with the change. This is how they turned the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle into an adventure rather than a hardship.
  • How Does Your Family Explain Differences and Approach Diversity? — How do you and your family approach diversity? Gretchen of That Mama Gretchen shares her thoughts at Natural Parents Network and would like to hear from readers.
  • Discussing Difficult Topics with Kids: What’s Worked for Me — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares parenting practices that enabled discussions of difficult topics with her (now-adult) children to be positive experiences.
  • Tough Conversations — Get some pointers from Jorje of Momma Jorje on important factors to keep in mind when broaching tough topics with kids.
  • Sneaky people — Lauren at Hobo Mama has cautioned her son against trusting people who’d want to hurt him — and hopes the lessons have sunk in.
  • Mommy, What Does the Bible Say? — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work works through how to answer a question from her 4-year-old that doesn’t have a simple answer.
  • When All You Want for Them is Love: Adoption, Abandonment, and Honoring the Truth — Melissa at White Noise talks about balancing truth and love when telling her son his adoption story.

 

 

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, and has completed several graduate courses in child development, psychology and family counseling. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

10 thoughts on “Difficult Questions and Lies: 4 Reasons to Tell the Truth

  1. Just as you mentioned in your article, I think honesty and respect go hand in hand. If we want our children to treat us with respect then we owe them the same treatment. This involves being honest all of the time. Thank you for sharing.

    • Erica, yes, over the years I’m finding that because I am honest, my children are not afraid to tell me when they make a mistake or need help fixing something and they are so inquisitive too. I agree with you – we should give them the same treatment we would like to see in return :) thank you for stopping by!

  2. Trust is incredibly important to us, so we choose to be honest with our kids about everything, within age appropriate bounds. Honesty is an investment in our future relationships with our kids. I agree that sometimes I need time to think about how I am going to answer a question, and I have delayed conversations to give myself time. So far, I’ve never regretted telling the truth :)

    • Dionna, so far I haven’t regretted telling the truth either and I agree with you, trust is really important in our family too. We have at times had to delay the truth for a while – like when we moved overseas, the children were too little to deal with the news months in advance, but when the time felt right we explained everything. thanks for stopping by.

  3. I totally agree with you. I don’t always catch myself before those little lies come out of my mouth (whoops!), but I agree with you in principle and strive to be honest with my kids. Like when our cat died, I knew I wanted to be truthful despite (or because of) the emotional pain. And when we’re setting limits, I want to be clear that that’s what’s happening, not that we’re being forced into something. Like in your example, if we say the store is out of marshmallows rather than that we don’t eat marshmallows, then the next time we’re in the store, he’ll just want to check if the marshmallows are back in stock, and we’ll be back to square one.

    • Lauren, I agree with your point about being back to square one – it goes round and round sometimes and then everyone eventually gets so frustrated it’s so not productive to the relationship!!

  4. I definitely agree that telling the truth is much better than lying. Lying sets an example that it is okay to lie, in my opinion. Like you said, telling the truth even if met with disappointment is much better. When I was very young ~7 or 8 years old, the much loved neighbours little dog died (but nobody told us kids). My sisters and I found a little dog skull (from another dog) in the bush not far from our place and we thought, “Wow little Speckles wanted to see us before she died!” We were really happy about this, but years later were told she was put down by the vet. I was so disappointed :( if only the grown-us had told the truth it would have been sad but easier to deal with.

  5. Sometimes it might seem easier to stretch the truth a bit, but then if your child catches you and you have to backpeddle your way out of it, it undermines your parent-child relationship. Yes, it’s difficult at times, but better than the alternative.

  6. We are actually having a difficult time with this right now. My husband and I are no longer talking to or seeing my in-laws (mostly issues with my FIL) and they have not made any attempt to see the children. Our oldest (4yo) has started to ask to go see them. We were able to stop the questions by calling my MIL but she is starting to ask if we can go see them. There were many hurtful things done and said over the course of 10 years and my husband and I are finally at our wits end. The reason we let it go for so long was mostly for the children but it went too far.

    What do I do? What do I say?

    • This is a delicate situation, and i’m wondering if it might be helpful to just explain to your children that sometimes people have conflict/arguments or are not liking each others’ decisions and that they need some time away to think about their choices. I find it’s important to let the children know that everyone still loves them, that everyone is still family but that “mom and dad” need time to make some decisions and so you are going to visit for now. You may need to have the same conversation many times, and that is ok. Using neutral language like “we all need time to think” and “we decided to stop visits for a while” helps keep the explanation more peaceful and positive but still truthful. I hope that helps a bit. Family dynamics can be ever so tricky to navigate, I wish you strength!

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