The Truth About Lying: I'm a Liar and My Kid is Too

Family Matters on 07.25.11
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Lately my five year old son has been starting to lie. A lot. He is five and the candid honesty that I once wished he'd filter has turned to flat out lies and trickery throughout the day. Most of the time it's not anything too serious, but I still don't like it. A typical conversation goes something like:

Him: "Mom, Carolina called me stupid!"

Me: "Carolina doesn't even know how to say that word."

Him: "She did. She really, really did."

Me: "Teddy, it's not possible."

Him: "Yes it is. She really did."

This morning he claimed she bit him on the arm. They were both sitting right next to me in bed and her mouth was not anywhere near his arm. It drives me nuts that he can look me straight in the eye and flat out tell me something that didn't really happen. But then again, how can I get mad at him when I spend so much of my day telling him lies?

Where should I begin? How about Santa Claus? That's one great big giant lie that I (and bazillions of other parents) hold over his head for months to try to convince him to behave himself if he wants to get presents. Follow that with the Easter Bunny and every other human dressed up as a character they adore and that we convince them is real.

There are also the lies like "Your face is going to freeze that way." My husband was recently telling my son an elaborate story about how that happened to him as a kid. Lies, lies, lies! Of course, it's fun to see their reaction, but it's still a lie. And there are the times he asks to go somewhere and I just can't do it for the umpteenth time that week so I'll say it's closed rather to have to listen to him hound me for hours. And don't even get me started on the topic of where babies come from. He thinks that he was in my tummy for my entire life before he was born so every time he sees a picture of me pre-2006 he asks if he was still in my tummy then. And rather than explain the birds and the bees, I say yes.

I think my son is mostly doing it for attention and to test me to see how much he can get away with. Rather than make a huge to do about it, I tell him that I know he's not telling the truth and drop it rather than spend hours debating it. If the lie could have severe consequences for someone then we have a more serious conversation, but not when it comes to the battles with his sister most of the time. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, I should be telling him the difference between make believe and reality and lying vs. telling the truth, and I should be telling him to be honest and give him some alternatives to lying (which would be telling him to tell the truth, right?).  

But if I tell him the difference between make believe and lying I would have to explain to him that I have been lying to him for many years. I would have to tell him that Santa Claus is not real. And then his sister who will just finally understand Santa Claus this year will never get to have that "magical" Christmas experience. Not only that, but they aren't able to filter themselves well enough yet that they wouldn't go running around telling every other kid they know that Santa Claus isn't real. And then I imagine I would have a lot of very un-happy parents banging down my door.

I never considered myself to be a liar before I had kids. I'm honest with my friends, family, business associates, and everyone else I can think of. I know that eventually I will have to have truthful discussions about the birds and the bees and tell them about the reality of fictional characters, but for now I'm ok with being a hypocrite. I will continue to tell my son not to lie, but I will continue to let him enjoy his childhood without having to know that some of what we've told him isn't the truth. The world is a big scary place, and there aren't many years when children can be protected from it.

What do you think? Is it ok to tell these sorts of lies or should we always tell our children the truth like we expect them to do to us? Should we stop when they are a certain age?

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