When is Lying to your Children Okay?

Our resident psychologists Dani and Christina were recently quoted in an article on mamamia about lying to your children.

Roxy Jacenko has gone on record to state that she has told her children their father is ‘in China’, while in reality he in jail for Insider Trading.

This is a difficult situation to deal with, and Roxy’s approach, while deemed irresponsible by some media outlets, is not uncommon.

There are many situations when the absence of a parent or loved one will need to be explained to a child.

And sometimes it may seem worth concealing the truth from your kids in order to protect them from the harsh reality of a situation.

What is most important when considering lying to your children is the future implications of that lie…

Are you sparing them pain in the short term, which will just make things more painful for them in the future?

Will the lie confuse them, or give them unrealistic expectations of circumstances, people or behaviour?

Will they resent you or lose trust in you once they find out you have lied to them?

Are you lying for the child’s benefit, or for your own?

Dani and Christina believe that every situation is different, and should be treated accordingly.

And your child’s age and emotional maturity will play an important role.

‘It is important to give children age appropriate responses that are targeted at a level that they can understand. Children can be very receptive, so by withholding information, it may leave them confused or may result in them drawing their own conclusions.’

Sometimes very young children will simply not have the capacity to understand the reality of a situation, so a lie may seem like the best option until they are ready for the truth.

Once they start questioning you about the lie – that’s when it’s time to approach them with the truth.

So be prepared for when they are.

Be ready to explain why you didn’t tell them the truth to begin with.

Be ready to tackle the uncomfortable reality of the truth, and for their reactions.

And be ready for their questions, and confusions.

Now, this is a more extreme case, and a more confronting ethical dilemma of whether to lie or tell the truth.

But when it comes to ‘little white lies’ — keep the same concepts in mind.

However small the lie may seem, remember that your children are like sponges — they may remember and catch you out on a lie that could come back to bite you later down the track!

But don’t beat yourself up for lying when it’s in the best interests of your kids.

And if you don’t want to ever lie to your kids, that’s fine too.

Christina encourages parents to not give into cultural lies against their will — think Santa Clause or the Tooth Fairy.

There’s nothing wrong with these lies — and kids for decades have naturally and comfortably made the transition from belief to understanding.

But don’t feel the need to jump on board just because everyone else does! Kids can still be imaginative, excited and joyful about holidays or events without following tradition.

So there’s no golden rule to the ethics of lying to your kids.

Just remember to give age-appropriate responses, keep their best interest at the forefront of all your decisions, and be prepared for the future consequences of any and everything you say.

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