lying to children

Lying to Children: When to be Honest, When to Hold Back

Being a parent is hard. You make daily choices and decisions that you hope are in the best interest of your child. We all want to raise honest children, but the truth is every parent has lied to their kids. From fibs over bedtime to threats over taking away toys. We tell our kids they are awesome at sports, even if they aren’t. I tell my son if he eats too much candy he won’t be able to run as fast and that I can tell if he is lying to me by touching his nose. (A lie for a lie in our household!) Let’s face it, lying to children is sometimes necessary.

When it comes to lying to your children, when is it okay to hold back the truth… and when should you be honest? The answer is ultimately up to you, but there are some guidelines that most doctors and therapists will agree with.

Family Issues:

Many parents lie to children over the reasons of a divorce, or why a troubled family member no longer comes around. In most cases, these lies are fine, since young children usually aren’t emotionally ready to process the truth.

Childhood Magic:

From Santa to the Easter Bunny, we have all been lied to or told the lies about these magical figures from childhood. Believing in these fantasies helps encourage a child’s creativity. You will know when to tell them the truth. When they start coming to you with questions leave the answers open ended. If your older child says, “How does Santa get all those presents under all those trees?” Just say, “How do you think he does it?” If they say, “I think you guys do it,” then perhaps they are ready to hear the truth.

Protection from Pain:

Lying to children to protect them from pain is the most common reason why parents stretch the truth. Seeing something scary on the news or hearing it at school can bring on serious questions from your child. Only you are able to gauge if they are ready for the answer or not. If you don’t want to explain the reason behind the latest mass shooting, or how many innocent children were killed in a bombing that is okay. If your child heard about it, just reassure them that they are safe. You can even say nothing like that will ever happen here if it makes them feel better. They have plenty of time to learn the truth of what is really out there, and as parents I think it is our job to make kids feel safe and protected.

White Lies:

These are the most common lies we tell as parents. We can’t go to the zoo since it’s closed today, or if you don’t eat your veggies you won’t grow to be big and strong. They are harmless, as long as you don’t lie about these small things all the time. Kids need to hear the truth as well. Sometimes it is okay to say, “We aren’t going to the zoo today since it costs money and we just paid to play mini-golf last week.”


You should always be honest to your children when it comes to their safety. For example, my son once said to me, “Kidnappers aren’t real, right mom?” I quickly said, “Oh no honey, kidnappers are very real.” Then I went over our stranger danger tactics and rules that he already knew, but he was just testing me with the question. I knew it was because he was scared, and he wanted me to give him an answer that would make him feel better, but in this case the truth was important.

When it comes to lying to children, don’t stress, we’ve all done it. We were all lied to as kids and we turned out just fine… right?

Get more great advice and meet other moms. Download the SmartMom app today.