Tales From The Crib

Thursday, March 13, 2008

When Mom's a liar

As we were leaving a birthday party one day, my 4-year-old was handed a favor bag. She promptly looked into it and declared: "I don't want this!"

I was mortified because she did it right in front of the birthday boy's mother.

"Addie, of course you do. Say thank you," I urged her.

She refused. So I had a talk with her about being grateful for things people give us, even if we don't like them. "We don't want to hurt people's feelings, right?," I told her.

So it got me thinking: Am I teaching my child to lie? How do I teach her that fine line between being honest and not hurting people's feelings?

I have certainly told lies to my children. Addie wanted to know how reindeer fly if they don't have wings. I could see the wheels turning, and I quickly said: "It's the magic of Christmas!" I didn't want her not believing in Santa Claus already, so I lied.

And my friend, Kady Kloster, has told quite an impressive list of lies to her children, ages 4 and almost 2.

She has told them McDonald's is closed for cleaning because someone got sick there. She told them the bowling alley was closed for repairs, that their Daddy ate all the candy when he didn't and that my girls are either sleeping or eating when her daughter wants to come visit us. And she tells her son if he picks his nose, a nose monster will get him.

"The McDonald's lie and the bowling alley lie were because I had committed to taking them there and had to change the plans," Kloster says. "It's easier to make the lie up than to try to explain our plans are changing."

So where do parents draw the line? Is lying ever OK? Am I teaching my daughter that lying is OK by asking her to nicely accept a gift she doesn't like?

The answer, according to psychologist Sal Severe, is pretty much the same answer it is for adults: It's best to find a way to avoid a lie, but sometimes, there's a good reason to do it. Just make sure you pick your lies carefully.

Turns out that lying about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny is OK, says Severe, author of the book "How To Behave So Your Preschooler Will, Too!" And what about receiving a gift that you don't particularly like?

It's important to teach children to be honest, but not to the point of hurting other people's feelings, he said.

"The correct thing to do is to say thank you very much. Be polite," Severe said. "That's teaching kids political correctness."

Notice he didn't say to go on and on about the gift and exclaim "I love it!" Just a simple "thank you" will do. And that's easy enough to teach a preschooler to do.

Then there's the extreme lie: I often tell my kids that a car is going to "get them" if they run out into the parking lot. Or, if they run away from me in the store, I tell them someone might take them.

These things are unlikely, but not impossible. I'm trying to protect them. Severe thinks that's OK, too.

But, bad news for my friend with her McDonald's and bowling alley lies. (I admit to telling a few similar lies as well.)

"That's a huge mistake," Severe said.

"As your children catch on to that, then they're going to question everything you say to them," he said. "When you tell a lie to make it easier on yourself, that is not justifiable."


"Please report me to 1-800-Bad-Mommy," Kloster responded after hearing Severe's comments. "I'm going to keep lying to make my life easier."

Well, we can all understand that.

But instead of lying, Severe said to tell kids the real reason they aren't getting a Happy Meal that day. It might make it harder on the parent, but it's the truth.

And, I guess kids have to learn sooner or later: the truth hurts sometimes, especially without french fries.

* Angie Wagner shares "Tales From the Crib" with Pilot-Tribune readers each week.