When – if ever – is it OK to lie to your kids?

When – if ever – is it OK to lie to your kids?
Posted at 5:31 PM, Sep 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-25 18:32:02-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. –When - if ever - is it OK to lie to your kids? If you have this question, the simple answer is almost never.

News 3 spoke to a family/childhood psychologist as well as a panel of moms to break down this complicated question, and here is what we found.

Children who believe in magical and imaginative things like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny can be led to believe in these culturally-accepted fibs. Lies like these at a young age are not harmful to the parent-child relationship, according to experts.

Dr. Andrea Arcona, a clinical psychologist for CHKD, said, “Yes, they’re flat-out lies; these magical parts of childhood, imaginary pretend things, but you only get to do them when you’re a child, and oftentimes when kids find out they are not true, they’re finding out with their cohort.”

In many instances, parents say they have to gauge the personality and maturity level of their kids to know how much truth is too much and when to withhold information.

Katy Blevins, a Chesapeake mom with twin 8-year-old boys, said even though her boys are the exact same age, they could not be more different.

“They have different needs and different ways of seeing the world. One is very imaginative and has a heart for needing to believe in wonder and magic, and I want to honor that. The other one is very practical and logical and he puts things together very quickly,” she said.

Blevins said she handles each topic differently with each child because they handle these types of truths differently. She extended encouragement to other moms who struggle with these topics, saying most parents might not know exactly what is right all the time, and that is OK.

“We all need to extend grace to each other. None of us have the answers, and we feel like we are blowing it constantly. When we know better, we do better,” said Blevins.

Amy Walton, another local mom whose children are now in their 20s, had to handle how to tell the truth about her husband’s unexpected death, telling News 3 she could not tell the entire truth to her 8- and 3-year-old sons.

“I felt at the time that was the best I could do to satisfy his questions, and over the years it kind of evolved we would talk more openly and when they were old enough to understand we talked about what happened,” said Walton.

Dr. Arcona said not telling the entire truth is appropriate in many situations where the children are young or the topic is very hard for even adults to comprehend. She said leaving information out is alright, too.

Related: Pediatricians strengthen stance against spanking kids

“I think it's OK to say, ‘I wish I could help you right now, but I’m having a hard time myself. This is so hard for all of us; how can I help you?’ You can’t do what you can’t do, but how can I help my child?” said Arcona.

There is no magic age for when kids can handle some conversations and truths over others. Each child - their personality, coping mechanisms and maturity level - helps parents make those decisions: How much and what to tell your child.

Experts also said it's important for parents to have these conversations together before they talk to their child to come at some of these conversations as a united front who plan to tell the same information in the same way.

Parents, you’re doing OK. Dr. Arcona said all parents worry that they are not doing the right thing, but don’t worry - you’re not alone.

Dr. Arcona comforts us in saying, "No one is perfect. I am not, and I still make mistakes. The point is, if you have good aspirations and work towards them, you create a pattern of healthy parenting that allows for mistakes.”