No one wants to think that they are raising a child to lie, but since lying is necessary to function well in our society, we teach our children to lie by our example. We lie all the time with an average adult lying multiple times a day – largely social or ‘white’ lies, but lies none the less, which is any variation from the truth. We lie about how we really feel about some things (“that meal was delicious!”), and what we really think about other things (“you look great in that new haircut”), telling ourselves that as long as no one was hurt, it’s OK.
Children learn to lie from their parents by 3 years old, and by 6 years are lying regularly. (“Thank your grandmother for the lovely sweater and tell her how much you like it.”) As they learn to speak, so they learn to lie. Lie, wash, repeat.
So from early childhood were trained and in turn train our children to express ourselves indirectly by coding our messages – by asking questions at bedtime the child is really saying: “Stay with me a little longer”. All this message coding carried right through to adulthood takes guesswork to understand the meaning and decode properly. Often it’s hard to get at the real message under the deception.
Culture teaches us to repress or distort our feelings:”I don’t care how you feel — do it”, “You don’t know what’s good for you”, “Don’t be such a scaredy cat” or to get along in polite society: “Be nice to your sister!”, “Stop crying!””Let the other children play with your toys”. When a child is not allowed to express true feelings and is taught to repress them, there is a mixed message about being honest yet deceptive at the same time.
Many would argue that a lie told to make someone feel better is not a real lie, but the truth is that any lie doesn’t help the person as much as you may think. If the other person is feeling sad or bad, a lie doesn’t help them feel any better. If they are truly happy, a lie doesn’t add to their happiness. A lie is just an easy way to not engage.
If someone is feeling low or sad, the best way to help is to be with them and understand their feelings. This is more comforting and supportive than a lie: “Cheer up – things aren’t so bad” (ouch!). And when they are happy, you can comment positively without lying or diminishing their elation: “Your hairdresser is certainly creative!”
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: Children learn to lie by following their parents’ example. However, many lies are not only socially necessary but can also be beneficial (happier, friendlier, psychological benefits). So lying isn’t all bad, but know the truth that we indeed teach our children to be happy liars. Call it what you will – an evasion of the truth is still technically a lie. A lie is just an easy way to avoid engaging and interacting, which may be appropriate for the situation.