Parents sometimes lie to their kids without even knowing it — little white lies come out of us before we even realize what’s happening thinking it will keep a tantrum at bay, make a difficult circumstance easier, or not hurt their feelings. Whatever the reason, parents sometimes lie to their kids. But they don’t have to. Check out these common lies, and what you can say to your kids instead, that’s the truth.

child holding their parents hand

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Why Parents Shouldn’t Lie to Their Child

There are much better ways of going about protecting your child, and it simply has to do with being honest. When we are honest with our children AND ourselves, we can help prepare them for the world in many ways. For example, your child might hear something they shouldn’t have that was age-inappropriate. The common reaction to something like that would be to lie about what the truth actually was because you knew they were too young to even understand it.

But the better way to go about it is, to be honest and say something like, “You aren’t quite old enough yet to know such things. When you’re older, we can discuss it. Even if I told you, your mind isn’t ready to understand, and I want to protect you. ” Be honest that you aren’t going to tell them. Don’t make up something else, so you don’t have to deal with it.

Our children need to understand that there are certain things in this world that they aren’t ready for. Them seeing that you’re protecting them will build trust between you and your child. But make sure that when the time comes, you can address it and be the one to explain to them what something is instead of them getting false or exaggerated information from their peers.

When we lie to our kids — yes, even the “white lies” — we are leaving room for the trust relationship to be broken

Children are attentive. They will more than likely be able to read your face when you’re not honest. One of the BEST ways to build trust with your children is when these moments to lie come up, and you choose to be honest instead. Let’s discuss some common lies parents tell their kids that can break trust in the relationship and what you can replace it with.

Common lies we tell our kids that can affect our trust relationship with them

family reading a book together

1. The Circumstantial Lie

“It’s going to be okay, I promise.”

I am all for positive thinking. But not when it’s illogical. I used to say this a lot to my oldest son. But then one day, my husband said it to me when he didn’t really know the outcome of something devastating that had just happened in my family. And I realized that, unless I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it would be okay, this statement wasn’t helpful, as well-meaning as it sounds.

We don’t always know if a certain difficult circumstance will end up being okay. It might be hard. It might be the worst thing you’ve ever experienced. So here’s what I suggest we say when we don’t really know if it will be okay.

Say this instead:

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but let’s pray and ask God to help us get through. I’m here for you, whatever you need.”

Children need to know what to do when things get hard in life. And if our response to a difficult circumstance is to dumb it down or have wishful thinking, they won’t know who to place their hope in. Because of our family’s faith, we do know that anything that happens, good or bad, God is with us. But that doesn’t mean it will feel good or even be “okay.” It means that we will learn through the difficult circumstance our need for God even greater.

Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

So instead of saying to your child that everything will be fine unless you actually know it will be, then point them to prayer. Also, tell them you’re there for them. When children face something difficult, the knowledge of knowing you’re there for them, whatever they face, will mean much more than an empty promise of saying, “It will be okay, I promise.”

When children face something difficult that you don’t know the outcome of, the knowledge of knowing you’re there for them, whatever they go through, will mean much more than an empty promise of saying, “It will be okay, I promise.”

child playing piano

2. The Ability and Talent Lie

“You can do anything you set your mind to.”

It’s always better to praise effort instead of performance or even, again, making an empty promise. When we place weight, whether negative or positive, on their sheer performance rather than their character and willingness to try something, we tell our kids that what they do and accomplish is more important than when they try. The truth is, they might not be good at something they put their mind to. They might fail. And that’s where you can teach them that failure is okay.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeeded.”

Michael Jordan

The beauty of failure shows us where we need to change or where we can make progress. Failure can also be a way of showing us that perhaps what we’re doing isn’t for us! And if we don’t try something, we don’t know if we will be good at it or not.

So instead of telling your children they can do or be whoever they want to be, try this instead.

Say this instead:

“If you work really hard at something, you will most likely succeed. But expect a lot of failures and mistakes along the way. That’s how we learn!”

This lie also comes up when we tell our children they did a good job when they did not.

“Great job on the recital!” Even though they missed every single note and didn’t practice or prepare for it. Even if they did practice but messed up a lot because they were nervous, this still isn’t an excuse to lie to them. You don’t have to tell them it wasn’t good but try this.

“I know how much effort you put into this. I’m SO proud of you. You should be proud of yourself for all of your hard work.” Unless they didn’t practice, you could say. “I’m so proud of you for being bold and performing. How did you think you did?” And let them say how they felt about it. They might even say, “I should have practiced more. I feel really embarrassed for not knowing the song very well.” And then you can respond, “It’s okay. Now you know for next time!”

When addressing something they did that is not so great, as with anything, use your discernment. My toddler will scribble on a post-it note and believe it to be the most incredible thing that’s ever happened to my eyes. I’m not going to crush his spirit by telling him it stinks, and besides, I truly believe his little scribbles are adorable and, for his age, showing great effort in trying to do something. But as he gets older, I’ll continue to work with him on drawing. But honestly, when it comes to art. Anything goes. He COULD start scribbling on post-it notes and selling them for thousands of dollars in this day and age.

The point is, use your judgement, but never succumb to lying to your children, even when you don’t want to hurt their feelings. There is ALWAYS a way to speak the truth in love.

mom and daughter sitting in front of a couch looking tired

3. The “More Convenient” Lie

“Yes, we can go to the park today.” Instead of saying “no” when we don’t want to deal with a meltdown. Maybe we didn’t want to go to the park because we were tired from PMS. (Check out what I do to help my debilitating PMS). Maybe we didn’t want to go because we knew it would be too much on our kids to try and fit it in that day. Parents, it OKAY to say NO to your children. If they throw a fit, then so be it.

I am definitely guilty of lying just to appease my kids. I will give in to them because I don’t want to deal with what happens when I say no, especially with my toddler, and ESPECIALLY when we’re in public. Sometimes it’s because I don’t want to let them down.

And as I’m all about trying to find ways to say yes, it’s okay to say “no” to your child. I’m not sure what wave of parenting advice swept across the globe, telling parents it’s not okay to say “no” to your kids, but it couldn’t be more unhelpful.

Here’s what can happen when we don’t say “nooooooooo.”

Negative repercussions of not saying NO to your children

  • They won’t learn that it’s okay to say “no” to others, expressing their boundaries or opinions.
  • They will not experience disappointment in something and get a terrible wake-up call when they start adulting.
  • They will start making all the rules.
  • You are lying to them, saying “yes” even though you should say, “NO.” They will also learn that lying to appease people is okay. Related post – How to Prevent Your Child From Becoming a People Pleaser

Here’s the thing. You can say “no” in kind ways. You can also follow it up with the reason. Most often, children need to know the “why” behind the “no.” And it’s ALWAYS okay for them to ask. But make sure you are encouraging them to ask with respect. See in the related post – How to respond to disrespectful backtalk.

Here’s the thing. You can say “no” in kind ways. You can also follow it up with the reason. Most often, children need to know the “why” behind the “no.” And it’s ALWAYS okay for them to ask. But make sure, they are asking with respect. See in the related post – How to respond to disrespectful backtalk.

child sitting behind a stack of coins with a tooth on it

4. The Fairytale Lie – “Yes, Santa Clause IS real. So is the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.”

This is probably one of the most debated things in parenting. Is it okay to tell your kids that a big fat bearded man whose lap you sit on and whisper secrets to is, IN FACT, kind of creepy? Or is it okay to tell your child that the woman who flies in your room at night, sticks her hand under your pillow to collect your tooth, among many other children, is actually the most horrific thing in the world? I mean, call me cynical, but I just don’t get the appeal.

Maybe. Just maybe there’s a middle ground?

What if you told your kids the truth BUT put Santa and the Tooth Fairy or whatever in a whole other world? Let me explain. If your child does, in fact, get into the whole Santa or Easter Bunny thing, you can simply explain to them the beauty of IMAGINATION.

The imagination world is a place we go to PRETEND. Pretending and imagining is nothing you ever want to hinder in your child. When your kids play with toys, they imagine something. When your child watches a movie, it’s make-believe and imagination that makes it so fun. So why not lump Santa and the Tooth Fairy into the same category? That way, when they do actually find out that Santa is indeed NOT REAL, their little world won’t fall apart.

We don’t do the whole “Santa is real” bit because we don’t want our kids to get confused with who IS real. We believe that God is real. So how do you think they might react to the whole God thing when they find out Santa, who you also can’t see, is not real?

It becomes confusing for kids. So just be honest. Tell them that Santa is apart of the imagination world. The world we go to when we pretend, but it’s not reality.

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5. The Protection Lie - "No, bunnies don't feel anything when they are eaten by a predator."

As we want to protect our children from uncomfortable, sad, or hard things, this isn't always best for them. The example can be seen when our child sees something that is new and confusing to them. Let's say they saw a nature show where an animal gets devoured by its predator.

When they're young, they might ask, "Does the animal feel pain when they get eaten?" This is an opportunity to tell your child the truth. That things in this life are unfair and hard.

You might be surprised by the deep and pivotal conversations that come about in these moments.

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Positive parenting tools  

Games:

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Connecting on a deeper level emotionally with your child is CRUCIAL, and sometimes more difficult. We play THIS GAME often in our family to create a safe space for our kids to feel free to share their questions and emotions, all without judgment. 

We even offer an "Exemption Time" for the duration of this game, where anything he tells us is off the table for consequences. 

Screen Time Protection and Teaching Moderation

I've recently partnered with Bark, a software to supervise, manage, and protect your child's device use on the go. Use the code WORDBIRD at checkout to get an additional 1-month free trial after your first initial 7-day trial!

Screen Time Checklist Printable for Kids - FREE if you sign up for our weekly newsletter. Just fill out your info below. 

Book List for Kids and Parents

Check out my recommended books for parenting

Journaling for Kids

When a child is old enough to start drawing, coloring, or writing, journaling is an incredible way to help your kids better express themselves in a free and comfortable way. Check out our Kid's Printable Journals -- created specifically to help children better express their feelings, encourage gratitude, and spark the imagination. 

Chores for Kids

Magnetized Chalk Chart for Fridge

Implementing chores and structure in your child's daily life is a VERY helpful tool to teach them follow through, discipline, and respect. We use this chore chart in our family to help our kids keep track of their own progress, and keep you from having to constantly remind them of their daily tasks. 

If you're looking for something a bit more simple, this is also a good option. 

Chore Chart Printable - Get it NOW from the convenience of your own printer

If you're looking for something you can print out immediately and start implementing chores in your home today, check out this CHORE CHART PRINTABLE. With a Mandalorian theme, it makes for a lighthearted and fun way to encourage kids to do their daily and weekly "missions."

Emotional Connectivity with Your Kids

Check out these other posts on emotional connectivity on the blog!

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Author

Hillary Gruener is a wife, mother, writer, and musician. If she's not at her desk writing content on family life, she's adventuring the world with her husband and two boys.

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