Do You Lie to Your Kids? New Study Says It’s Surprisingly Common

Posted October 2, 2009 by

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"Is Santa Claus real?"

This question came this morning in the middle of the get-to-school rush, right over instant oatmeal and right after an unfinished homework assignment was discovered. I did what most parents do. I hedged. And then I lied.

"Um, what do you think, Honey?"

"I think he's real, but Taylor said it was just a lie parents tell their kids. Is that true?"

"Wow, he said that?"

"Yes. But you believe in Santa, right Mom?"

"Yes, Honey, of course I do."

A twinge of guilt and the question that always plagues me about Santa, Dragons, the Tooth Fairy, Unicorns and the Easter Bunny. I wonder when this will come back to bite me in the butt. At that exact moment, the problem was solved, though, and I figured that was enough for this morning.

It got me to thinking about a recent news story I'd read. It seems most parents lie to their kids about one thing or another — whether it's something rather harmless like a fantasy figure, or little white lies like how great the macaroni necklace for Grandma looks. Another reason parents lie? To prevent a tantrum or acting out behavior in their kids. Ever used the, "The police will come and give you a ticket if you keep screaming" line, for example? (I haven't. Not me. Never. Well, maybe just the once…and it worked!)

But not surprisingly, lying can harm child-parent bonds, according to researchers. Not to mention the fact that we are probably teaching our kids how to lie in the bargain! Gail Heyman, one of the experts who ran the study on lying, told Live Science that "Parents often lie on the spur of the moment, and they don't think about what they're saying and how it will affect their child." She cautioned, "I think parents should figure out in advance what their general beliefs are so when it comes to the situation, you're working with your beliefs rather than what pops into your head at the moment."

I guess what she's saying is that you'd better get your story straight in your head — and with your spouse — so you're both answering those difficult kid questions the same way!


Elisabeth Wilkins is the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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