Truth be told, there aren’t many parents who haven’t lied to their children at some point.
In fact, in a new survey of 1,375 UK parents of children under 10, conducted by www.vouchercloud.com, 93 per cent admitted to knowingly telling lies or mistruths to their children.
Those lies are usually little more than benign fibs, and research shows the top untruth mums and dads tell their kids is, ‘When the ice cream van plays that song, it means they’ve sold out’.
The rest of the top five are...
lIf you keep pulling that face, it’ll stay that way.
lThe toy shop is closed today.
lWatching too much television will give you square eyes.
lMummy and daddy are allergic to puppies/kittens/animals.
The study found that for two fifths of parents, saving money was their main motivation, followed by efforts to encourage good behaviour in their children (27 per cent), and simply wanting to avoid nagging (26 per cent). Two per cent said they’d been told similar lies when they were children and were merely using the same techniques as their parents.
However, an admirable seven per cent of parents said they didn’t knowingly tell lies to their kids, with the majority of them (84 per cent) reasoning that it was hypocritical to lie to your child yet expect them to tell the truth.
Clinical child psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin points out that while white lies are a common and quite understandable part of parenting, parents should be careful not to use them too much, even if the alternative is a harder option.
She says: “Often we parent by the skin of our teeth, and unfortunately, white lies are one of the ways parents work their way through the day with little ones.
“We tell white lies so that our children will listen to us, do what we say or stop asking for things. However, while these white lies may get us out of an immediate situation, it can cause difficulties in the long-term.
“Children who’ve been lied to by parents will struggle to understand why parents won’t let them lie themselves.”
She warns that if lying becomes a strong currency in a family, a child will then lie with less control than adults because of their underdeveloped understanding of what’s socially acceptable. This can lead to them getting into difficulties with siblings, friends and teachers.
“An occasional white lie is OK - after all, they’re important oil for the cogs of socialising,” says Rudkin.
“But if you find yourself doing it a lot, think about an alternative strategy, one that shows trust and respect in your child, such as explaining why you’re asking them to do something or what it is that’s going on.”
Relate-trained counsellor, agony aunt and parenting expert Suzie Hayman warns that while some of the fibs parents tell kids seem quite funny, the truth is that they’re often just a way for parents to avoid difficult subjects or conflict.
“It’s easy to smile at some of the fibs and white lies - the ice cream van one, or the one about making your hair curl or eyes improve by eating carrots,” she says.
“But I tend to wince because it can become a habit and then toxic family secrets go into the mix, too. Lies may often be excused as being in the recipient’s interest - saving them from fattening treats, for example - but they’re always about the tale-teller’s convenience.
“It’s easier to tell a lie than explain fully or face up to conflict or embarrassment.”
However, she stresses that by telling such lies, parents are often avoiding an important learning point.
“If you can’t afford ice creams every day or recognise too much sugar is bad for them, then say so. Your kids need to hear that and to learn how to prioritise or discriminate.
“I may sound frightfully po-faced about it, but I hear so often from people who have had the most awful lies told to them - denials that they were adopted, insistence that fathers hated and abandoned them - that have scarred them for life and that often began in a family culture of little lies that expanded.
“It’s often harder, less convenient and downright difficult to tell the truth and manage the consequences. But I’m of the opinion that’s what being a parent is all about - a hard job that needs skills and support, and we need to offer such to parents so they can do their best.”