Is it ever ok to lie to your child? A tricky one, for sure, but one most parents will have to consider at some point.

Back when I first started this blog I had a series where once a week my husband would ask me a ‘women’s‘ question, and I’d do my best to answer it honestly. The idea was to help foster and nurture an open and profound bond between father and daughters, one that transcends the awkwardness of puberty. (I wrote about it in more detail here.)

Here’s the question my husband put to me:

Hubby: I heard something on the radio that got me thinking. Obviously this one could equally apply to boys, but either way I think it warrants discussion. And it’s something that maybe doesn’t have a ‘right’ answer, but I’m interested in what you think. So, is it okay to lie to your kid in some circumstances, to save their feelings? For example, if they’re not a looker and they ask you straight? is it ever okay to lie to your child?

Me: Hmmm, loaded question! I have a few thoughts on this one…

Firstly, the point is that our children look to us with an almost godlike reverence, right? I wrote about a pretty epic example of what I mean in this post. So it could be argued that by not being completely truthful with our impressionable little ones, we are failing them in a very fundamental way.

And yet… The vast majority of parents in the developed world lie to their babies from a very young age, and do their best to keep that lie magic alive for as long as they possibly can.

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I am, of course, talking about Father Christmas, but he is just the most popular and influential of several examples I could have given. And it is so accepted – expected even – in our culture, that society are complicit in reinforcing the dishonesty – both passively (Christmas displays), and actively (visit the ‘genuine’ Santa Claus).

Child Looking at Christmas Display

Is It Ever OK to Lie to Your Kids? Maybe

While one can’t dispute it’s deceptive, guess what we’ll be doing this December? Yep, we’ll be exposing our daughter to those blatant lies with the best of ‘em. And in my opinion, it will be with the best of them, because we are so doing to bring a little enchantment to their lives.

I intend to shield our children from the horrors of the world for as long as possible; they have their whole lives for those realities.

My idea of being a good mum is maintaining the intrigue and mystery of fairies and unicorns and imaginary friends – until they lose their childish wonder.

And when that day comes, it will be a sad one.

Girl Giving Gift

Back to the specific question… Luckily, most parents are blinded to their children’s appearance because they wear rose-tinted glasses (whether they’re necessary or not)! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all. So just because your child may not be classically beautiful, there’s every chance you would consider them so all the same. 

Supposing Pixie or Elfin looked less cherubic – would I expect you to tell them so if they asked you?

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Allow me to quickly share a miserable anecdote from my own childhood (you know it already, readers don’t!).

My parents divorced when I was seven, and though I had previously worshipped my dad, our relationship thereafter became strained. Then, during an evening out with family and friends when I was a teenager, a flippant remark he made left me completely humiliated.

He told us all that I had been an ugly child.

Is it ever okay to lie to your child? Should you always be completely honest at any cost, or is a white lie acceptable sometimes?

My dad had indulged in a few drinks, which probably accounted for his lack of tact, and with hindsight I don’t believe there was spite or malice intended; in fact, I think it was intended as a back-handed compliment. But the damage was done – I was bereft.

Shortly after our relationship broke down completely, only being repaired when I was planning my wedding. (For those who are curious, he attended but did not give me away or make a speech.)

My point is, despite being sure my dad has said lovely things to me on numerous other occasions, it is his negative words that had such a profound and lasting effect on me. We’re all inclined to recall the insult instead of the praise; but coming from somebody you hold in such high regard and in whom you wish nothing more than to elicit pride – it’s heartbreaking.

Is It Ever Ok to Lie to Your Child?

So, should you lie? Based on what I’ve said, you’ll probably think I’m going to say yes. The trouble is, your child will see straight through it if you can’t say it with conviction.

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How, then, to deal with this conundrum and retain your integrity?

There are plenty of people in this world who look beautiful, but I don’t think they are beautiful – because they’re vile. And so, I would suggest being honest, and appraising your child not solely based on their appearance, but rather on account of the goodness in their heart; their kindness, compassion, generosity, and manners; their willingness to forgive.

If you can look at your offspring and see these attributes, then you are blessed with a beautiful child. (And if you fail to see that, then it says more about what’s reflected in your heart than in your eyes.)

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Parenting

An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is an experienced breastfeeding advocate, and expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.

22 Comments

  1. certainly interesting thoughts. I agree with looking and being beautiful – big difference.

  2. justsayingmum Reply

    Firstly, I must just say that I really enjoyed reading this post. I think for enchantment purposes we must never squash a child’s dreams and magic – we have to keep them alive for as long as possible – such enchantment is rare in many aspects of life for many sadly so if a few little deviations from the truth create a happy childhood then I’m not going to disagree. I feel for you regarding your father’s statement – that would hurt but all of our experiences shape us and it’s probably a strong factor in making you the wonderful mindful parent you are today #BloggersClubUK

    • Kate Reply

      Thanks for your lovely comments Helen. I agree about squashing our children’s dreams. And I hope you’re right about being a mindful parent, I am trying and writing this series seems to keep me focused on it! 🙂 x

  3. Catie: An Imperfect Mum Reply

    What a great idea for a series. Your hubby posed a really interesting question too. I love your quote; My idea of being a good mum is maintaining the intrigue and mystery of fairies and unicorns and imaginary friends – until they lose their childish wonder.
    I feel that way too. I am desperately trying to keep hold of that wonder as my boys are growing up.

    • Kate Reply

      Thanks for your lovely comments Catie, I hope you’ll join us again in the future x

  4. The beautiful thing about children is there ability to see possibility in everything and if tales of Santa Clause and the Easter bunny will enable them to hold on to that for a little bit longer then I’m all for it. Great post, thanks for sharing! #BloggerClubUK

  5. this is a really interesting question. It got me thinking. We lie to our children all the time. I mean its essential part of raising our children to be confident, proud and self loving people. When my daughter comes downstairs after she got dressed all by herself and looking at me with the smug “Well? What do you think?” I am not going to tell her she looks like she got dressed in the dark. I won’t tell my kids that the painting looks like a scribble and i have no idea what it is. I am going to praise them, encourage them at all times. Unicorn, Fairies, the Easter bunny and Santa are huge part in our kids lives and imagination. Yes, so I would have to say it is vital to lie to your kids. There comes an age and a time when honesty becomes vital, especially when it comes to big things, but details of honesty always has to be age appropriate. just my 2 cents, 🙂 loved the post.

    • Kate Reply

      Thanks so much Fran, and I think you’re absolutely right x

  6. Mess and Merlot Reply

    As a parent I find myself constantly questioning whether what I say/do is going to have a detrimental effect on my children later in life! My kids do ask a lot of tricky questions but I find they are pretty accepting of my very basic, but as honest as is appropriate, answers -for now anyway! #BloggerClubUK

    • Kate Reply

      I’m sure we all question ourselves like that, and I’m sure it will only get harder as they get older and ask more difficult questions! But sounds as though you handle it right, it’s what I intend to do too x

  7. Step by Step Mom Reply

    when i was a young child i remember asking my mother if i was beautiful because i have met some mean people on my childhood, that make e feel bad about myself, and she always said yes, and i hated her for that, i thought that she as only saying that because i was her daughter and through her eyes i’ll always be beautiful, Even today i don’t know if were her ‘mother eyes’ talking or i was truly a beautiful child. xx. ##BloggerClubUK

    • Kate Reply

      That’s very sad. But surely better than for her to say the opposite? Trust me when I tell you how incredibly painful it is to hear a parent tell you how ugly. You *should* be beautiful in your parents eyes because of the love they have for you. So if you’re not, then it says something pretty awful about how they feel about you, in my opinion. X

  8. Anita Cleare Reply

    There is telling the ‘truth’ and there is damaging someone. If that’s the choice then the truth needs to be redefined! #coolmumclub

  9. Kate Reply

    It’s sad how the things we are told by our parents can affect us so deeply, usually without any malice on their part. It makes me want to try all the harder to ensure my husband and I are careful not to do the same with our daughter.

    Thanks for commenting x

  10. Kate Reply

    Thanks so much, I’m glad you liked it. ? I agree delivery is everything. X

  11. Kate Reply

    Hi Debbie, thanks for coming back and commenting again. ? And please don’t worry, all is forgiven!

    Great answer! X

  12. Kate Reply

    I’d forgotten it, but what a lovely quote that is! X

  13. Kate Reply

    I agree, but I won’t even feel bad about the white lies – because for me, magic is what makes a childhood! X

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