We had Chinese takeout with my in-laws recently. The kids were excused while the adults gabbed at the table. “Here you go, Mandy,” I heard Mary whisper in the other room. She was feeding her cousins’ dog a deep-fried chicken ball.
Mary, soon to be eight, is well aware she’s not allowed to feed the dog human food. She feigned ignorance.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t know.”
It’s not the first time the child has fibbed to try to get out of trouble. The fact is that she lies occasionally. So does Adelaide, who’s five:
“Adelaide, did you put this sticker on the glass door of the china cabinet?” (She says no, but I know it was her.)
“Adelaide, did you hide Daddy’s ear plugs again?” She shakes her head. (They were in her toy box.)
A tall tale is a lie children tell you – and themselves – because they want to believe it. “Don’t call me Adelaide, I’m Wonder Woman!” is harmless enough. But I wonder if it confuses them when we teach certain ‘white lies’.
“Oh, thank you for these beautiful clothes,” Mary says with a smile – even though clothes are the last thing she wants for her birthday. That lie is to be polite, to spare someone’s feelings.
We’ve lied to our kids to spare their feelings. The girls don’t know our pet fish is actually Marshmallow the Third. The First died when I put it in tap water, instead of distilled. The Second just up and expired. The girls were really little, so we said the fish went for a check-up. When Tom couldn’t find that fish in the exact same hue, we said the doctor’s medicine made him change colours.
It does bug us when the kids tell lies to get their sister in trouble – half-truths such as “she hit me” – conveniently leaving out that she hit her sister first. We discipline for lying and explain about ‘the boy who cried wolf’. But here’s a truth: all children try out lying. Will they turn into con-artists? Probably not. (No word of a lie.)
Tracy Cooper is a stay-at-home mother of Mary, 7, and Adelaide, 5.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2013.