Friday, June 4, 2010

Liar, liar, pants on fire

It’s perfectly normal to tell your kids porky pies, but don’t avoid facing reality sometimes

“I’m a firm believer in lying to children, if for no other reason than it is fantastic fun.” – Nigel Latta, author of Politically Incorrect Parenting.
On the face of it, this statement may make some parents cringe, but when you really think about it... lying to kids is a very normal part of parenting.
“What are you eating Mum?” says the toddler who spots mum eating chocolate.
“Broccolli,” she says confidently, looking her child straight in the eye.
“Can I ride on Thomas the Tank Engine?” asks the toddler at the shopping centre.
“Not today darling, the batteries are flat.”
Parents lie to kids about all sorts of things and there’s nothing wrong with this.
If we didn’t lie, people would find it very hard to co-exist, particularly when asked questions like “does my bum look big in this?”

We lie a lot more to children to hold on to their innocence. Childhood is meant to be a magical and wonderful time, especially when we go to extremes each year to make our children believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
Lying is a parenting tool that will never become taboo like circumcision and smacking.
It’s something we use to protect them, and that means we’re doing a good job.
I once said to my daughter “if you don’t brush your teeth, they’ll fall out and you won’t be able to eat anything except soup”. It’s not entirely a lie, but it was as far-fetched as you could get, in order to help her understand the value of oral hygeine.
Now, at the age of four, she happily visits the dentist, loves brushing her teeth, and thinks apples and carrots are super snacks for keeping her teeth from falling out.
But there are some situations where telling the truth is always the better alternative and as a parent, you have to be the judge of when this is appropriate, depending on the child’s age and developmental stage.
I don’t believe in lying about the facts of life. If my daughter asks me where my unborn baby comes from and how it’s going to come out, I tell her the truth. And I don’t use ridiculous nicknames for body parts.
One question she asked me was: “Is it going to hurt when you have the baby?”
I said: “Yes, it will, but I’ll have Daddy and a doctor or nurse to help me.”
She was quite satisfied with that answer, but then decided she didn’t ever want to have a baby.
No problem with me, you just follow your career path to become a doctor, sweetie!
Nigel Latta says he doesn’t ever tell six particular lies to his children: life is fair, everyone gets a turn, you can do anything you want if you try hard enough, everyone gets a prize, it’s not about winning it’s about taking part, and you’re special.
“I don’t want my boys to grow up thinking that life is fair, or that everyone gets a turn or that the world thinks they are inherently special,” he says.
“Life is none of these things, and the world simply does not work that way. If you think it is, then you’re going to be disappointed, unhappy and bitter most of the time.”
He says if they’re going to be special, then they have to actually do something to be special.
“The last thing I want is for my boys to get out the end of childhood expecting the world to serve up a happy life to them on a silver platter, because it doesn’t work that way,” he says.
“Once you get that life isn’t fair, that sometimes bad things happy to good people, and that if you want stuff you have to go out and get it yourself, then you’re more likely to actually get the kind of life you want.”
This may sound very grim, but it’s realistic, and will probably set children, especially hormonal teens, on a stronger path, ready to face tough times head on, instead of cowering in the corner waiting for someone else to sort out their problems.
Dr Timothy Sharp agrees in his book 100 Ways to Happy Children.
“Real and meaningful happiness is fundamentally dependent on having realistic expectations of what life will hold,” he says.
“We all need to face the reality that bad things happy and things go wrong; we have all faced adversity at some stage in our lives and so will our children.”


Ann Harth said...


I have just read this column in the Cairns Post and am somewhat disturbed by your examples. First of all, let me say that I am a mother myself, I hold a BA in psychology and am the author of a number of parenting articles.

While I agree that, as parents, we do lie to our children to make life magical in the areas of Santa and the Easter Bunny (we get as much pleasure from this as the kids do) I think you've crossed a line.

I agree with your comment that we need to guage the information we hand over to our children by taking their ages, maturity and personalities into account.

What I do not agree with is lying to your children to make your job a little easier in the present. When a child wants to ride on Thomas the Tank Engine and you are racing to get your chores finished or don't have the change or simply feel that it's a waste of time and cash, what's wrong with saying so? Doesn't this give your child the message that, Yes, I know you want Thomas right now, but it's not convenient for me for the following reasons ... Doesn't this teach them that they must consider others desires as well as their own? Isn't this what makes our kids become caring and empathetic adults?

Please, don't lie to your kids to make your life easier and avoid being the bad It's important to have the courage to be the bad guy once in a while and let your children know what it feels like to be denied by you for some good reasons - your reasons. You're only teaching them self-discipline and caring for others - not to mention accepting that often-used word "no". It may trigger a full-blown, cringe-inducing tantrum but, in the long run, these will give way to understanding and tolerance and seeing the other person's viewpoint.

The quotes that you are offering from parenting experts are ideas that I agree with and you seem to as well - except for the fact that your examples illustrate the opposite. We are supposed to show our children that life isn't fair; we don't want to give them the expectations of a fairytale future but isn't that exactly what you are doing when you lie to your child about the fact that you simply don't want to say no?

No is a wonderful word when used sparingly and wisely.

Thanks for listening.

Shannon said...

Hi Ann,
Thanks for your comments, and I agree with you... so I think you might have missed the humour in my writing.
And believe me, I'm not averse to saying "no" to kids and I'll be writing about this topic in the near future.


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