Oh the lies we tell when we are avoiding an awkward conversation! The problem is death, money budgeting, painful experiences, and sexual reproduction are a huge part of life that they will need to know how to manage. Being able to go through these situations with your support will help them in similar future encounters.
– “Your dog Spot went to a big farm to play.”
No- Spot died. Now we don’t need to be this blunt or share to many details, but children who are lied to about where their beloved pet went often feel betrayed when they later learn that they died. We think that we are saving them pain, but it can often lead to more questions and confusion. Some tips for this conversation: leave out the graphic details (if they were hit by a car, say that but leave out the gory details), stay age/maturity appropriate, answer all the questions in a calm caring manner, answer all the repeat questions (they may need clarification), work within your belief system, give them a helping job to do (making a grave marker, write a note to put on a balloon to release, etc) and let them grieve. Sometimes grief is overwhelming and tearful, sometimes grief is sleeping and cuddles, sometimes grief is just wanting to be left alone. But the point here is that they are learning how to cope with death with your support. This is a very important life lesson in that death is apart of life.
– “I don’t have any money with me.”
The last time I said this to my 6 year old (which sparked this post, actually) she asked me how I was paying for groceries then. Busted. I had to explain that I had lied, which is a hard conversation to have with your 6 year old as her mom trying to teach her not to lie. So I have vowed to be brutally honest with my answers, even if it is a simple “I don’t want to spend money on that.” Plus, I created a chore/money system in our home where the kids can earn money for extra chores that they do, so they can buy whatever they would like within their earnings. This has done two things: first- they really think about their wanted purchases because it is their hard earned money they are going to spend & second- they don’t whine or beg for little crap all over the store because they know they will have to use their earnings to buy it. This is money budgeting and although we are on a very simplified version of it, I plan to keep this growing with them so that they can be money smart adults.
– “It won’t hurt.”
This is probably the most common phrase we will discuss. This is parents’ attempt to get their kids to willingly take the shot that they need without making a big fuss. The problem is- then it is painful and you have betrayed them. When my kids are about to do something painful, here is my speech with eye contact, “You are going to (explain what is about to happen) and it is going to be painful. There is going to be a sharp sting and your arm is going to ache but it will be done quickly (for example a shot). I am going to bear hug you and hold your arms down so you don’t flinch with the needle in your arm. I will be here to whole time talking you through it. You are strong and brave and you will get through this. Do you have any questions?” I answer all their questions and then we get on with the hurt. But it usually doesn’t last long and then they are back to normal. It may hurt more than they thought or less than they thought, but either way- they knew it was coming. This lets them know that they are strong enough to get through some pain and how to ask for resources if they need it.
– “The stork brings babies.”
So this one depends greatly on the child’s age and maturity level. Your talk with your 6 year old will be very different then that with your 16 year old. So go with what you feel is appropriate and what they will understand. The best practice is using the anatomy names for genitals/body parts- even when kids are very young. Not only does this reduce confusion down the road but it also creates respect and ownership for one’s body.
Thanks for reading and feel free to contact me with any others you feel should be addressed.
My Challenge to you: Figure out what you are ‘white lying’ about. Figure out how you can be more honest about it and what life lesson it can teach.
Happy truth bombing friends!
– Jessie the Therapist