My answer may pleasantly surprise you.
I recently watched Andy Cohen, late-night host of the hit show “Watch What Happens Live” and father to two beautiful kiddos, interview celebrities Jenna Deewan and Jamie-Lynn Sigler. Both women also have young children. Andy Cohen played a game where the three answered questions about whether they had done certain things as parents. One of the questions was, “Have you ever lied to your kids to get them to do what you need?” All three parents, without hesitation, said yes and laughed.
We all do it, and guess what? It’s OK. Should we get in the habit of lying to our kids constantly to get them to do what we need? No. But you can be selective about when and how you tell a lie. And, if practiced well, it should result in a significant lesson or outcome. I call this concept: lying with benefits. Lying with benefits means there is a gain for you and a gain for your child as well.
Lying can garner positive results, for you and your kids. But before you lie, here are some things to consider.
You are preparing to potty train your child, and you know he may struggle with giving up the diaper. You can say, “Guess what? I was at the store, and they are entirely out of diapers. I know this stinks, but we’ll figure this out together. We have to wear underwear and use the potty until the store gets more diapers.”
The child recognizes that you’re not trying to force or control them and you are on Team Kid. You are empathetic, and they see you as someone who can relate to their struggle. Instead of being on opposing teams, you’re on the same team fighting the same battle. The benefit is that you are much more likely to get your child to start using the toilet. You might ask, “What if they ask for the diapers once the store ‘restocks’ them?” At this point, it rarely happens. Potty training is challenging until your kiddo gets the hang of it. Once they start using the toilet regularly, it becomes a habit. There’s rarely a conversation about going back to diapers.
Your child continuously asks for a new toy whenever you go to Target. You tell him, no, and he cries and screams the whole time. You do a great job holding the boundary, but it’s exhausting. Next time he asks you for a toy, say, “Oh, guess what? Target called and said it’s not our turn today.” I used this with my kids when they were younger, and they were utterly stunned into silence when I said it. They asked, “What! Whose turn is it?” I said it’s another kid’s turn, and it’s our job to be just as happy for those kids as we are when it’s our turn.”
My children stopped repeatedly asking if I could buy them something, which was great in my book. Again, we were on the same team, and I could empathize with their disappointment. They celebrated the other kids and practiced feeling happy about someone else’s win. Best of all, they experienced delayed gratification. Young children don’t love waiting. We can create opportunities for them to wait, so they will continue to improve. Waiting is an important skill that has to be worked on.
For Older Kids
Lying to kids as they get older is not ideal. It’s better to be honest and model healthy communication with them. But we can shift the way we respond so that we too can be on their team. With teens and tweens it can feel like everything is an argument and it doesn’t have to be. Although, it may not always seem like it, they too are trying to connect with us.
We constantly police what older children can and can’t do. And now that they’re older, they fight back. We might see this as an opportunity to double down or remain even firmer than before, but the truth is, we need to pull back. We fear our children will do the “wrong” thing, creating tension. We believe how our children present to the outside world directly reflects how we parent them. We make it personal, and we shouldn’t.
What should you do?
Start with agreement. For example, your kids may say, “I hate doing homework. I wish I didn’t have to do it.” You may then quickly respond, “Well, you have to because school is important, and you need to be responsible and complete your school work if you want____.” You come back armed and ready to hand out threats. What if, instead, you agree? Agreement doesn’t mean they don’t have to do their homework, but what if you said, “I don’t blame you. Homework can be a total drag. I get it.” The minute we agree and connect with them on their point of frustration, they are more willing to hear a solution.
You could follow up with, “What do you think you should do?” Or, “Let’s just get it done in the next half hour so we can plan on doing some fun things afterward.”Or, share how you solved this dilemma when you were their age. “I used to feel the same way, so I started to do the subject I liked the least first so I could get it out of the way.”
Agreement is our gateway to guiding our kids through challenging moments. It doesn’t mean you can’t set limits, but it shows your children that you are connected to them and what they say. They feel heard.
Can lying have benefits? Sometimes, it can. We just don’t want to use it constantly as a quick fix. Be thoughtful about why you’re lying and how it can benefit your child. When done well, you gain cooperation and tap into more meaningful connections.