Children, starting from the moment that they begin to understand words, have no concept about lying or untruthfulness. Whatever is told to them is taken as fact. The parents or elders are the absolute authorities about understanding the world. When this authoritativeness is not destroyed by lying, then parents will have no problem about making their children follow what they are told. But the moment the children discover that their parents lie to them, then this image of credibility is shattered. The parents’ authority is eroded. Every time that the parents say anything to the children, the kids will wonder whether it is true or not. In effect, respect for one’s parents is lost, and the consequences can be tragic, both to the family and to the child. During times that the parents truthfully and wisely tell their child not to do something, the child may no longer believe them and thus may fall into disastrous circumstances.
Some parents think that it is not possible to be always truthful to their children. So in seminars that I conduct, I ask people to give me examples where they find it difficult to be truthful to their children.
For example, when six or seven-year-old kids ask where they came from or how they were born, many parents would give them fantastic but untruthful explanations. One mother told her child, “Anak, hulog ka ng langit” (You fell from heaven or the sky.) How would a child take this? That he or she actually fell from the sky and caught by the mother? Why can’t parents say the simple biological facts about reproduction even if the child does not understand half of it? They find it difficult to explain truthfully because many parents think that it is taboo to talk about these things. But children will not be scandalized by any such truth. They would not think that there is anything wrong with facts. It’s the adults’ minds that have this problem.
How about stories about Santa Claus?
My strong suggestion is that parents should not lie to children about Santa Claus. One teacher told me about her experience. When she was a child, her father told her that if she wrote a letter to Santa Claus before Christmas, Santa would bring what she asked for on Christmas Eve. She believed this unquestioningly. Then one Christmas Eve, she wanted to see Santa Claus so she hid herself in the living room and waited for Santa to bring the gift. Indeed, the gifts arrived, but who brought them? It was her father.
The next day, she deliberately told a big lie to her father expecting that it would be discovered. When the father found about the lie, he scolded her and asked her why she lied to him. Then she looked at his father and said angrily, “Why did you lie to me about Santa Claus?” The reason why she was so angry was because, a few days before, she was told by her classmate that Santa Claus did not exist and that it was her parents who brought the gifts. But since her father told her that Santa Claus really brought the gifts, she quarreled with her classmate and defended her father. It was a costly lie by the father, and the daughter never forgot about it.
How about children who were adopted? Should parents tell them about it?
It is very difficult to hide from a child the fact that he or she was adopted. Many people usually know about it — uncles, aunties, neighbors and family friends — and they cannot be prevented from talking about it. So my view is that the parents should tell the child at some point, but on one condition: that the child should feel that he or she is loved by their adoptive parents before saying it. If the child feels loved, then the child would not mind very much if he or she adopted. If such children don’t feel loved, then telling them will be like a double rejection: that the reason why they are not loved is because they are adopted, and that they were also rejected by their biological parents. In addition, they would feel that they were deceived by their adoptive parents.
Parents usually find it difficult to tell the truth because they did not learn how to make truthful but assertive communication. Suppose a child is asking money from the mother to buy something unimportant, and the mother does not think that they should buy it. Some parents will just say, “I don’t have money” hoping that it will quickly end the discussion. But when the child discovers that the mother actually has money, then the child will feel deceived. Instead of lying, let the mother discuss about priorities in expenses and why it is not advisable to spend money on things unimportant. When the child has a high level of trust towards the parent, the child will accept it. The child may feel disappointed, but will not be resentful. It is alright for children to be disappointed, but it is dangerous when they begin to resent the parents.
When someone calls by phone looking for a parent, and the parent does not want to talk with that person, the parent may whisper: “Tell her that I am not around.” When children witness this, then they may think that deception is acceptable, and later will do such lying towards their parents and other people. In such cases, trust at home will gradually disintegrate. Instead of lying, tell the child, “I will just call later”; or answer the phone and assertively turn down what is being requested; or if there had been hurt feelings on a previous day, the parent may tell the child, “Please tell her that, sorry, I am not yet ready to talk; perhaps later.”
Never lie to children, under any circumstance. The consequences are not worth the convenience gained from lying. On the other hand, there is so much advantage when children retain high trust on the parents.