Lies that every parent tells their kids

Parenting. It’s the most rewarding, incredible, crazy, and exhausting journey any human being can undertake. Nothing on earth can truly prepare you for both how amazing and insane it will be, so truly, you just hang on and enjoy the ride. 

Of course, before you become a parent, you swear that there are things you will never do, like feed your child chicken nuggets for dinner two nights in a row, let them have unlimited screen time on the weekend, or god forbid eat anything off the floor. But once you do cross that bridge into the role of 24/7 guide, mentor, advocate, buddy, and caregiver to your little one, you realize that sometimes the best-laid plans can go out the window. And, yeah, you’re going to lie to your kids once in a while, too, unless you’re not really human.

Bearing that in mind, we polled the experts, and asked them about some of the most common lies every parent tells their children. Some are total white lie, some are bad, and some are just downright hilarious. Without further ado, here they are.

"I love all my children equally" or "I love you the same as your siblings"

The jig is up, parents of the world: we know you don’t feel exactly the same way about each one of your children, if you have more than one. “I hear this statement a lot,” shared Rebekah Springs, LMFT. “But as I dig deeper it is apparent that no parent actually loves each child the same! And the truth is, kids don’t even buy this statement!” That’s right, the old myth has been busted, so there goes your excuse for not really answering this question when your mini-me brings it up.

So what do you do instead of give the safe old line as an answer? “I often coach parents to own up to the fact that they love each child differently — and that’s normal and okay,” Springs continued. “It’s not okay to compare your children or put them down, but you can totally give a genuine example of the different ways you love each of your children.” Chances are your children will sense the truth in your words, too, making for a much more honest and emotionally fulfilling experience for everyone. It’s a win-win!

"You don't need to worry about that"

Part of raising a child is answering their questions, which at times can be a little overwhelming — especially when they hit the why phase of their development. So when your little one is asking about some grown-up matters, of course you want to tell them they don’t need to worry about those things. But be considerate of the context. “This often happens when kids pick up on family conflict, or financial distress, or other big ‘grownup’ worries,” noted Springs. “The truth is, it’s not about need — kids are perceptive and they WILL worry if they sense something is wrong.” Yup, somehow kids always seem to pick up on things, even when you try to hide them.

Springs recommends a more direct approach, instead of avoiding the topic altogether. “The best thing you can tell them is, ‘I can see that you’re worried,'” she continued. “‘And I’m here to talk about it with you and it’s my job to take care of you — and even though you’re worried, this is something the grownups will work out together.'” That way you have a more concrete resolution.

"You're too young to know about that"

If you’ve met a child, pretty much ever, you know that they’re innately curious creatures. So if something piques their interest, chances are they’re going to ask you about it, no matter how awkward it might be. And sure, it’s easy just to tell them they’re too young to know about it, and put the matter to rest. 

But is that the best option? “When kids ask a question about sex or genitals, you might be so rattled you avoid the question,” explained Jill Whitney, LMFT. “But the truth is, even toddlers can know facts about bodies and procreation. If they’re old enough to ask, they’re old enough to know at least the basics.” When they say children are sponges, they really mean it, huh? They don’t miss a thing.

It’s also good to make sure that you’re not projecting your anxieties into things. “We adults may be a little freaked out about it, but for kids, it’s just more information about how the world works,” Whitney continued. “So answer simply and accurately, and maybe buy book you can read with your child.” There’s just no end to the homework!

"Going to college will make you successful"

An integral part of the classic American Dream posits that you should send your children to college, and that they will be endowed with lucrative skills upon graduation — or so we tell our children. But Janice M. Robinson-Celeste, an early childhood specialist as well as Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Successful Black Parenting Magazine, knows that this is a lie. She told The List, “As we know, this is not always true and there are no guarantees. We sell this dream and too many adult children get into debt. Learning a trade has been underrated.” 

Of course, everyone wants their child to be happy and successful, and accomplish their dreams. But according to Melissa Kramer, LCSW, you have to help them learn how to earn success for themselves. “There is a delicate balance in teaching children to work hard, strive for goals, and accomplish their dreams vs. telling our kids you can have whatever you want,” she explained. Finding that balance is critical, then, in helping your child realize their ambitions.

"You know Santa is watching"

Not all lies are bad for kids or detrimental to their development, such as telling your kids that Santa is real. As Kramer told The List, what really matters in this situation is the intent of the adult. “Telling children ‘Santa is real’ to preserve their innocence and the magic of the holidays is a stretch of the truth that has the child’s best interest at heart,” she emphasized. “The point is for the child to enjoy and benefit from believing in the magic, enhance their enjoyment, and ultimately benefit.” So if you’ve really made sure that your heart is in the right place, there’s no need to cancel Christmas.

On the other hand, telling your children that Santa is always watching them isn’t the best idea. “We know this is a lie, but we say it so that children will behave,” noted Robinson-Celeste. “This is true for the Elf on the Shelf as well. It’s actually creepy to think a strange old man or a mythical creature is watching your child. As innocent as it may seem, it’s the stuff that can breed nightmares in some children.” That could definitely ruin the holiday!

"If you tell the truth, you're not going to get in trouble"

Every kid is going to get into trouble on occasion, and sometimes their transgressions can be pretty major. At times like that, of course you want to get to the bottom of things. But one lie that really can be detrimental to kids is telling them that they can be honest with you without consequences, and then punishing them for telling the truth anyway. “Parents actually have this one wrong,” noted Robinson-Celeste. So even though you got the information you wanted, it’s not the right way to go about things.

Instead, Robinson-Celeste says that parents need to be sincere on this front. “We should stick to our word, not punish the child for telling the truth,” she continued. She also advises against doubling up on punishments if they’re caught lying again, as it’s really not fair since you also lied to them. Plus you want to make sure your kids can trust you, especially if something serious is going on!

"Your face will stay that way"

If you’ve ever been tempted to tell your mini-me that when they make silly faces it will be permanent, you’re not alone! Every parent is tempted to say it, especially when the kids are acting particularly foolish. But Robinson-Celeste told The List that, of course, that’s not the case — they’re just learning. “Children, especially young children, are learning what their bodies can and cannot do,” she clarified. “Besides, it is fun for them to see double, and their eyes will return to their normal placement.” So try not to be too much of a Debbie downer when their noses find the windows.

Of course, as adults we remember our parents selling this fib. “Every time I made a disgusted face as a child or crossed my eyes, that’s the first thing my parents would say to me,” recalled Adina Mahalli, MSW. “I still kind of believe it though. You get wrinkles from your most used facial expressions, so I guess your face does stay that way (a little).” That’s definitely one way of thinking about it!

"That drawing is fantastic"

There’s no doubt that every parent out there knows the struggle of dealing with your young child’s prolific works of arts. From hand turkeys on Thanksgiving to cotton-ball-adorned snow sculptures on Christmas to freestyle crayon mayhem, little Picasso has no shortage of masterpieces for you — and they probably adorn far too many walls in your house. There’s no such thing as too many family portraits with yellow two-dimensional suns and v-birds, right?

And of course, you have to lie to your kid and tell them their latest contribution to the world of art belongs in the Louvre Museum, right? “Children often come home with some strange works of art and the only real way to respond is with praise,” Mahalli shared with The List. “Even if you have no idea what they drew, you need to pretend you do. There’s a little artist in each child, right?” Indeed, and it’s important to nurture that creative development.

"There's nothing to be upset about"

We get it. Being an adult means you have adult problems, which can often be overwhelming. Additionally, it can sometimes make you a little insensitive to your little one’s problems, which might not seem like real problems at all. “Your kid dropped her ice cream cone and is preparing to throw a huge fit,” proposed Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C. “You tell her not to worry about it, it’s no big deal and you can get another one.” Sound familiar?

But that’s not the best way to handle the situation. “The truth is, it is a big deal — to her,” Bilek continued. “Telling her that what she is feeling and experiencing is ‘nothing’ is confusing because it’s not true — she has something to be upset about whether or not you evaluate it as such.” So you’re probably better off trying to comfort your child and validate her feelings, rather than imposing your own opinions on whether or not there’s really a problem.

"This will hurt me more than it will hurt you."

Another lie that can have a negative impact on your wee one is telling them that something will hurt you more than it will them, like a punishment or a reprimand. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case, according to Michelle Person, a former teacher and elementary school principal. “No it won’t [hurt you more]. It’s going to hurt them. A lot. I don’t care what it is.” So that’s definitely something parents should avoid saying, even if they really think it’s true, even in a small way.

Person understands why parents are prone to telling this lie, too. “We say it in a feeble attempt to express a sense of empathy, like we are simultaneously experiencing whatever the current hurt is with the child,” she continued. “We’re observing, not experiencing. It does not hurt us more.” So by better understanding the mechanisms at work in this situation, you can see it’s not something you want to replicate.

"I know exactly what I'm doing"

Sometimes, parenting can feel like the most natural thing in the world, something that just comes to you innately and easily. But for most parents, most of the time, it can be extremely difficult to know if you’re doing it right. “Raising children is tough. And you don’t get an instruction booklet along with the newborn,” Bilek told The List. Ain’t that the truth? We wish someone would write one, because we’d sure buy it.

That’s why it’s totally okay to tell your little one that you know exactly what’s going on, and have a handle on the situation — even if you have no idea what you’re doing. “Sometimes as a parent, you’re winging it when it comes to the best child rearing decisions you can make,” he continued. “You may not be 100% sure which car seat is best.” Or preschool. Or brand of cereal. Or vitamins. Or anything, really. Welcome to parenthood!

"Big boys don't cry"

One especially toxic lie our parents may have told our brothers, or that we’ve told our sons, is that boys shouldn’t cry or show other vulnerable emotions. “When we tell boys they can’t cry, shouldn’t ‘be weak,’ or should ‘toughen up,’ we may intend to help them mature — but the result is harmful,” Whitney explained. “That causes boys who feel sad, lonely, hurt, tender, and other less ‘tough’ emotions to express them indirectly, often by acting angry.” She added that as time goes on, sons can have difficulty recognizing that they’re even feeling those softer emotions, which isn’t good, as they lose aspects of themselves.

There are definitely more emotionally healthy ways to help the young men in your life develop more fully. “Instead of stifling boys’ real emotions, talk to them about appropriate times and ways to express their feelings,” she continued. “Home, especially, should be a place where every child can be their full, real selves, including every emotion.” That way your little man will grow up with all parts of himself intact.

"No, the shot won't hurt"

Going to the doctor’s office was traumatic as a kid, and, of course, that’s because it meant you might be getting a shot. Yikes! Additionally, plenty of adults still bristle at the thought of needles, so you know it’s a serious fear for your little ones. That’s why it’s always tempting to lie to your kids and tell them that the shot won’t hurt — but that will inevitably backfire. “That’s a foolish thing for a parent to say, because you’re immediately proven wrong,” Whitney told The List. “That teaches kids they can’t trust you to be honest with them.” So unless you have one of those doctors who is so magical with injections you really don’t feel them, you’ll be dealing with those unintended consequences.

So what’s the best way to handle it, then? “You’re much better off saying the truth,” Whitney continued. “Yes, it’ll hurt, but only for a second. By the time you feel it, the shot will be over.” That way you can calm your kid without being caught in a lie.

"If you swallow your gum it will stay in your stomach forever"

Most parents learn early on that it’s extremely difficult to keep their child from putting everything in their mouth at a certain age. And when kids become old enough to chew gum, parents bust out a classic whopper to stop their kid from eating it: if you swallow your gum when you’re done chewing it, it will stay in your stomach forever. “Similarly, if you eat the seeds in fruit, it will grow in your belly,” noted Robinson-Celeste. Who knew your stomach was capable of such magical feats? What would a peach or cherry tree look like if it was growing out of one of your internal organs anyway?  

Fortunately, lies like this aren’t something most parents say to their children with any kind of malicious intent. “I’m sure parents say this to keep children from choking,” Robinson-Celeste added. Whatever gets the job done!

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