Sometimes all the little white lies get to me. Not from children, from all of us. I thought I'd be the one to take the moral high ground but it's amazing how many little white lies are involved in being a parent. Need to keep strangers from touching the baby? "She's sick and I wouldn't want you to catch it." Want them to stop your toddler from whining? "I can't understand you when you whine." Elaborate cultural holiday mythical figures: Santa, Easter bunny, tooth fairy. And I can only imagine the other junk I swore I'd never use: "Your face will stick that way." "Keep doing that and you'll go blind."

Does anyone else feel like a horrible little white lie machine (and a hypocrite for teaching your kids not to lie)? Or am I making a mountain out of a molehill?

I know there's no right or wrong answer on this, but I would really appreciate hearing how the parents on this site deal with (or don't deal with) this.

asked 26 Oct '09, 13:43

Dinah's gravatar image

accept rate: 15%

edited 26 Oct '09, 20:58


+1 For being so frank and questioning :)

(26 Oct '09, 13:51) Emi

It's hard to imagine any objective answer to this, so I'll just give my perspective as a parent.

I think there are two aspects to this. First: are little white lies ever ok? I think so, under the right circumstances. Adults do it all the time, it's important social glue, it would be very awkward (not to mention developmentally inappropriate, at a certain point) to NEVER tell the white lies that get us through the day without unnecessary conflict. But there are two kinds of white lies.

The "good" white lies are the ones whose only purpose it to avoid unnecessarily hurting the feelings of the RECEIVER, on topics that aren't really important. Examples: "that's a great story" (he's no Hemmingway), "I love it when you bring paintings home from school" (good God, where am I going to put another finger painting), "that shirt looks great on you" (it's a little goofy, but nobody's really going to care).

There is another kind of white lie that exists only for the convenience of the TELLER (not to avoid hurting the feelings of the receiver), and I recommend avoiding these (children will detect these lies when they're old enough, and they send the wrong message).

"She's sick and I wouldn't want you to catch it." -- Why not just tell the truth (you don't want the baby getting sick, so you only allow touching by people known to be healthy, after they've washed their hands). Aside: stand up for yourself, it's your baby, not theirs.

"I can't understand you when you whine" -- this is really close to being true. How about "Adults don't respond well to whining, polite requests work a lot better." Completely truthful, and actually communicates your intent more clearly.

"Elaborate cultural holiday mythical figures: Santa, Easter bunny, tooth fairy." Lots of us celebrate the holidays and have a great time while knowing that these figures are pretend, without actually trying to orchestrate an elaborate ruse on the kids. Some people think it sends a powerful message for the kids to know where/who the presents actually come from. And that doesn't mean you need to excise these figures from your lives, only that you don't have to say they are real when asked the truth.

"Your face will stick that way." "Keep doing that and you'll go blind." There's no reason to give them incorrect information about how their bodies work. How about the entirely truthful "that's rude," or "nobody wants to see that" and avoid giving them attention when they do it. Also, on these things, I would ask myself (as a parent) which ones are really important, and which ones are entirely harmless and normal kid behavior that I'm reacting to unnecessarily.


answered 26 Oct '09, 14:40

lgritz's gravatar image

accept rate: 14%


+1 for the difference between lies told for the receiver's benefit and for the teller's benefit. When the child grows up and goes out into the real world, do we really want them to blurt out the exact truth in all circumstances to all people? When your son grows up, and his wife says, "does this such-and-such make me look fat?"... well he can make up his own mind what to answer, can't he? :)

(27 Oct '09, 00:46) Scott ♦♦

Not to sound flippant, but there is an alternative: Don't lie.

See this question and my lengthy answer regarding Santa, etc and honesty.

Instead of, "I can't understand you when you whine" try, "I wont accept being talked to like that. Settle down and talk to me properly."

Instead of, "Your face will stick that way" how about, "I really don't like it when you pull those faces, and I'm not going to pay attention to you if you keep doing that."

Rather than, "She's sick and I wouldn't want you to catch it" try, "Stay the hell away from my kid you creepy weirdo or I'll stab you in the eye with this diaper pin."

Okay, that last one may be a bit extreme, but I'll guarantee it'll work. My point is that nine times out of ten it's how you approach the problem.

I remember when my first child was born one thing I really wanted her to know is she could always get a straight answer from me. She always knew where she stood with me. Sometimes the answer is not the full answer because sometimes she isn't old enough to understand the full answer - I've had to pitch it at her understanding level - but as she gets older and understands that the simple answers to some sophisticated questions were incomplete, we discuss the more sophisticated answers.

And sometimes the answer has been, "I'm sorry, you're just not old enough for that one yet." and once or twice the answer has been "I'm sorry, I am just not ready to answer that!"

Never threaten your children with a punishment for misbehaver that you are not prepared to carry out. Never say, "Okay, but don't tell your mother" (or father). Never be afraid to say, "I don't know."

I agree with you, it does rankle my nerves a bit when I see parents doing the little white lies, too.

And because an answer can never be really complete without a funny anecdote: One time when my daughter was four or five she came up to me for the umptenth time in an hour asking for yet something else to eat. In exasperation I said, "Geez, anybody would think your throat's been cut." A not uncommon turn of phrase where I come from. Anyway, her eyes got as big as saucers and her hands when up to her neck and she said, "I don't want my throat to be cut!" Try explaining that analogy to a four year old, I dare you.


answered 26 Oct '09, 14:56

Evan's gravatar image

accept rate: 55%

:) That was a great answer

(26 Oct '09, 14:58) Emi

+1: Great answer and interesting ideas evan.

(27 Oct '09, 00:41) Scott ♦♦

While I think a couple might be good lies (the stranger, for instance) with hints (running away, shouting it over your shoulder!) this all sounds good to me!

One thing I'm determined to do myself is say "I don't know" but followed by "Let's find out!"

(30 Oct '09, 16:03) pete the pagan-gerbil

We have chosen to adopt the "No Lie" policy. This is something we both strongly believed in and had discussed even before we became parents. Its not as hard as I thought it would be. We always back up what we are saying with evidence so to speak :)

This way we will never get caught out lying about something, she will trust that we are honest with her, at the same time I can see we are setting an example and encouraging self awareness in her, alongside critical thinking, and confidence.

Last year I avoided talking about Santa too much, I gave indirect answers, to her questions. She recently questioned how Santa comes in to our home, while the security alarm is set :).

There are times when she answers back with what may be valid and legitimate points so we still do not shy away from being 100% honest.

"Come on time to brush your teeth" "But I am toooo tired" "Well its up to you but if you don't brush your teeth they'll get really bad" "How?" "You will get tooth decay" "What's that?"

Then literally straight on the internet with pictures of decayed teeth.

Questions about babies and how they get there are just starting to pop up, and I can say this, I am not looking forward to explaining about the birds and the bees just yet! I do not like hearing children being told things that are not true, it makes me uncomfortable particularly because children today seem to be really really smart !


answered 26 Oct '09, 14:57

Emi's gravatar image

accept rate: 19%


Re: tooth brushing -- we did pretty much the same thing! Not telling lies doesn't mean that they don't have to DO what you ask (and/or what they need to do), it just means parents can't make up the reasons out of thin air. As far as "birds and bees" -- why not be truthful from the very first time the topic comes up? You don't need to go into the gory details of what adults do in bed, but they deserve the basic facts of animal life and on a farm would have seen it up close from a very young age. Not being aware of these basics is a very recent development in human history.

(26 Oct '09, 20:48) lgritz

On the facts of life, if you ever find a copy of How a Baby is Made -- -- buy it. Unfortunately it is out of print, but it is so comically drawn (hippie 70s) yet factually accurate, including the sex act itself, that it is pitched just right for explaining the process to young children. In general, it's useful to find a good book for their appropriate age level that can explain the process without sniggering (books tend not to).

(27 Oct '09, 10:02) Paul Stephenson

@ Paul Stephenson Thanks alot for that recommendation, I will try and get hold of a copy. Sounds absolutely great.

(27 Oct '09, 17:54) Emi

There is a great book out there called 'Great Lies to Tell Small Kids' by Andy Riley


answered 31 Oct '09, 01:08

dreamerisme's gravatar image

accept rate: 8%

I have another book by him (The Bunny Suicides) that's pretty funny. Looking through 'Great Lies' on Amazon, this book looks very funny and silly as well. I'm not sure it's going to help guide anyone's parental decisions (at least I hope not), but it does look funny.

(31 Oct '09, 12:39) Dinah

I don't have a whole lot else to add to this, and I agree with the no lies for all the reasons that have been discussed above I have one thing to add.

In "The Philosophical Baby" by Alison Gopinik, there is a fair amount of scientific evidence that children understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction. So, they know when they are pretending even if they act like they are completely convinced, and they also know when you are pretending (ie lying). This being said, do you remember how it feels to have the people you love the most that you know are meant to protect and teach you lie to you? Are you prepared to have the little white lie make your children less confident in you?


answered 20 Nov '09, 05:08

DarwinsMom's gravatar image

accept rate: 5%


Lying to do your job as a parent isn't the same as lying under oath. We owe the truth to those who can understand the truth. We don't owe 100% truth to the severely mentally handicapped either. I'm not trying to be mean. I just don't think it applies if someone is incapable of getting it.


answered 30 Oct '09, 14:08

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Jesus Villa-Lobos
accept rate: 0%

Hello Jesus! Welcome! :-) This answer offers your opinion only. Do you have any experience with how you handled situations in the past like this, and what was the outcome? Please see for more info.

(31 Oct '09, 03:35) Scott ♦♦

Why don't the mentally handicapped deserve the truth?

(20 Nov '09, 01:31) Scottie T
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Asked: 26 Oct '09, 13:43

Seen: 4,018 times

Last updated: 20 Nov '09, 05:08