Originally Published: October 13, 2013 6:01 a.m.
We shouldn't lie to kids. It's a terrible idea. But I think that some of the fault is theirs for being so very easy to fool.
I've known people who gleefully and with malice aforethought tell kids the truth about the Santa secret, claiming that it's a travesty to lie to children, and that they themselves suffered agony upon learning the truth as youngsters. It's not their own kids, mind you, who have this truth foisted upon them. No, it's always someone else's kid.
Personally, I think that the real reason a person would simply blurt out the truth about Santa is because it's mean and edgy and provocative, none of which are good reasons to do that.
But we SHOULD be honest with children. We need to teach our children at a young age about honesty and integrity. Up to a certain point in a child's life, they don't even know HOW to lie. Not really. It's just beyond them, that they'd make up a story to gain something or to avoid trouble. And when they do start lying, they're absolutely terrible at it.
I have four daughters I love very much, and they all went through stages of learning the art of the lie. In fact, at least one of them (the 4-year-old) is still firmly in that stage.
The reflex response to a lying child is to reason with them. Here's the thing I've learned about my own children, though: Those adorable little tykes don't understand reason. You can tell them all the reasons why it didn't rain in the house, and thus, that logically they are the ones truly at fault for the 2 inches of water on the bathroom floor. That child will still look you straight in the eye and say, "No. It was rain."
How do you deal with a lying child? No idea. I was a horrible little liar when I was younger, too, so I identify with them a lot. And reasoning doesn't work. Punish them, I guess. What am I, some sort of parenting guru? No. I'm just a handsome columnist.
But I digress. The point is, you shouldn't lie to children. Your kids will view you as the template of what an adult should be like, as awful and awesome as that is. So, if you want an honest child, you should be honest and forthright yourself. It's tempting to say "Do as I say, not as I do." That didn't work with me, I know. When I was a kid, I wanted to do what my parents were doing. That's why I pay my taxes on time and get to bed early. My parents are terribly boring, you see, but wanted me to be wilder. (Note: That is a lie. I might not have outgrown my lying stage all the way.)
However, it is so insanely tempting to lie to children. Why? Because you will get away with it. Because they don't believe that adults are capable of deception. But most of all, because it gets you out of sticky situations.
When you have a child who has asked for the 50th time why they can't stay up late, and after reasoning, threats, and begging have
failed to coerce that child back to their room, it's sort of tempting to say "Better get to bed or else the boogeyman will get you."
Or when your kid asks to go to the carnival, but you aren't in the mood for long lines and crowds and noise, but that kid isn't listening to that, it's tempting to say "Ah, man. It just left town. They waved goodbye this morning, and said to say 'hi.'"
Or when you want your little girl to believe in magic. Recently, Charlie has become interested in magic. I've been pretending to take off my thumb for her for years, and recently, I let her figure out the secret. I've been showing her some sleight of hand tricks, and she's always blown away. Great audience, that kid.
And the other night, I walked out to my car with her following me to fetch something from the trunk. Seized by a sudden whim, I asked her to say "Open trunk!" She did, and I pressed the button on my key fob that opened the trunk. We then had to do it about 20 more times. I even showed her how to flash the lights by saying "Blink, lights!" while surreptitiously pressing the button to lock the car doors.
I let her in on the secret, that I was pressing the button. She still liked it. The next night after I got home from work, she asked me to go outside with her again so she could open the trunk. I gamely followed, and we played the Open Trunk game a couple of times. As we walked back inside, she stopped me and asked "Daddy, am I magic?"
What could I say? Well, I could say yes or no, obviously. That's not what I meant. Stop being so pedantic. I mean, how else could I respond to that? I said, "Yes, you are."
Later on, she told my wife "Are all daddies funny? Because my daddy is funny and magical and he makes me magical, too," a sentiment so sweet that it makes me vomit with joy.
I'm glad I made her feel magical. Maybe I didn't lie, though. Maybe she IS a little magical. Maybe I'm in the clear as far as the constant honesty thing goes.
I'll finish that thought later. Charlie just walked by wearing a top hat while carrying the cat and a handsaw.
(Note: I just lied again, but I didn't have an ending.)