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When to be honest with kids
There is a difference between being dishonest with a child and choosing your words carefully. In other words, you can always answer a question honestly and still preserve a child’s innocence. Think of it in terms of “need to know.”
This is very age dependent; I’ll break it down into three age groups:
When to be honest with young kids
First, make sure you understand what they’re asking. A classic urban legend tells the story of a child who asked his mother where babies came from. His mother sat him down and gave him a detailed description of the intricacies of conception and delivery. When she finished, he said, “I guess Billy and I were both wrong. He said the stork brought them. I thought they came from the hospital.”
When you can put the question into context, it makes it easier to answer with the appropriate amount of information.
Also, your answers can lead a child down a seemingly illogical path while still remaining true. As they age, they’ll understand and appreciate your answer for what it was.
My mother always answered my questions about Santa Claus by saying, “Yes. I believe in the magic of Santa.” As I came to understand that Santa did not actually exist, I also understood the twinkle in her eye as she continued to tell me she believed — and to this day I still believe as well — as do my grown children. Thanks, Mom, for making that possible.
When to be honest with pre-teens
Again, answer honestly, withholding details that are not pertinent for them to know. If they persist in having more details, tell them you will discuss the issue further with them at the appropriate time and in the appropriate space.
For example, “Dad, how much money do you make?” Acceptable answer: “Sufficient to provide our family what it needs. Why do you ask?” This might prompt a discussion about a concern your child has heard about people losing their homes or of classmates comparing how rich each other’s families are.
In any case, you might then sit down and discuss the details of family finance or the value of money. Another acceptable answer: “I make what most engineers make after 15 years of experience. I’d say we’re in the upper-middle-class tax bracket.” At that point your child is free to research what engineers make or to check into what that tax bracket might mean. Or push for further clarification …
When to be honest with teens
Once again, be honest. Details can be more forthcoming, but not of an extremely personal nature. A teen child should not be seen as your “confidante” or “friend.” You still have a responsibility to carry the load of parental responsibility and leadership. When answering difficult questions that could cause the child to worry, always follow up with a positive statement about working through whatever the issue is.
For example, “Are you and mom getting a divorce?” Answer: “Like all couples, we’ve had our fair share of good times and bad times. We’re having some issues right now and are doing our best to work through them. Rest assured that our problems have not been caused by you. We’ll always be there for you, no matter what.”
In all cases, the correct way to proceed is to:
- Understand what the genesis of the question is so you can understand what the child wants to know.
- Answer the elements of the question that will satisfy the child’s curiosity, while maintaining their appropriate boundaries of innocence or concern.
Again, think in terms of “need to know.”
Lying comes from being caught off guard. If all else fails, create a distraction to give yourself a moment to think … or tell them that it’s none of their business and you’ll get back to them when they’re ready for the answer (not in as many words).
Remember, you’re the adult and they are the child. Act like an adult ought to act.
Matthew Alexander writes about a variety of topics, including politics, relationships, and parenting. You can read more Quora posts here: