Lies, Kids & Tiny Bears

There has been some pretty ferocious debate around a recent post on a blog called Heading East. I’ll give you the skinny on it.

The post that sparked it all:

Lies I’ve Told My Three-Year-Old Recently

Trees talk to each other at night.

All fish are named either Lorna or Jack.

Before your eyeballs fall out from watching too much TV, they get very loose.

Tiny bears live in drain pipes.

If you are very very quiet you can hear the clouds rub against the sky.

The moon and the sun had a fight a long time ago.

Everyone knows at least one secret language.

When nobody is looking, I can fly.

We are all held together by invisible threads.

Books get lonely too.

Sadness can be eaten.

I will always be there.

Which brought a little smile to my face when I first read it (until I read the last one because that touches a raw nerve with me). To me, these aren’t so much “lies” as encouraging imagination in a mind that’s untouched by cynicism or doubt.

I’ll admit that when I first had my son, I was vehemently opposed to creating the Santa tradition with him as I think it’s a load of commercialised rubbish, and I can recall feeling slightly ripped off when I discovered he wasn’t real. But the fact is that some of the lies we tell our kids are universally omnipresent and there is really no escape unless you plan on raising your child as a hermit.

So this post made me smile because, like Santa, I could see that they would bring a bit of wonder and magic to the author’s child… something I often think my son needs more of.

But back to the skinny. Some of the responses to this post really surprised me (some also made me laugh!):

I will never do this to my children. It’s always possible to present things as a “funny story” or “using your imagination” rather than as the truth about the universe. Childhood is confusing enough as it is.

Is the world not wonderful enough on its own that awe must be consciously manufactured?

My father routinely did this to me as a child.

For years I believed that in England there were 8 days in the week. I remembering puzzling over what that eighth day was called and what happened when they went somewhere else. Never ask my Dad to explain a Beatles song.

In 1980, I was in first grade during the presidential election. In an attempt to participate in the experience, the kids were going around asking each other what political party they were. For some bizarre reason, they were asking asking “what religion are you?”. Not knowing the answer, I asked my dad. I spent the next few days answering these questions with: “Anarchist” and “Neo-Olympian, you know, Zeus”.

I’m not sure if I’ll do the same to my daughter (she’s only 2 now), but I can say for sure it’s a great way to raise a cynic.

My uncles used to torture us children by pointing at everyday objects and referring to them by wrong names. As in, you point to the neighborhood dog and go, “See that, Timmy? That’s an elephant. Can you say elephant? ELL-eh-fant. Good boy!”

I grew to hate those fuckers with the white-hot passion of a million burning suns.

I’ve admired friends who do this, but I found, in bringing up a child, that I usually told what I thought was consensual reality/scientific truth in answering her questions. Truth is just as remarkable as fairy tales, anyway. These explanations have certainly not impaired her creativity: she is a remarkable teenage artist now.

However, the Catholics call some untruths “lies of omission,” and I sure told her a lot of those, wanting her to believe the world was a wonderful place full of love and things always get better and better.

You know, I must admit I relate to the last comment, about giving real/scientific answers, I know I do this more often than not.  Maybe it’s because I lack imagination myself, or maybe it’s because my kid is too smart and usually calls me on my fanciful (made-up) explanations for his questions.

For those that have kids, do you have similar “lies” you tell your kids?  What are they – please share!  And for those without kids, did your parents create little wonders like this for you?  What were they… and will you do the same for your kids?



  1. I think I would kid around with my kids as they got a little older but ultimately would tell them the truth and say I had been joking. I don`t think I would want to encourage kids to lie…

    I told my kids at school though that I used to ride a kangaroo to school! But I told them it was a joke! That is how they all learnt the expression `just Kidding` now on the way to the park one will point at something and say `Look a snake………………………….just kiddng`

    My parents brought us up on santa, easter bunny, tooth fairy etc but the day I asked my mum if they were real she told me the truth.

  2. I guess it is like my mum used to tell me that if I didn`t eat the crusts of my sandwiches I would never be able to have curly hair!

  3. I’m expecting my first child right now and I know for a fact that Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy will all feature in the early years. I very strongly believed in fairies and ghosts (I was always told they can’t hurt you, so there’s no need to be scared of them) when I was a kid and don’t see why kid shouldn’t do the same – there’s no harm in that kind of thing and it makes childhoos all the more magical. That said, I don’t think I’d be quite comfortable in making things up unless it was in the context of a story. I’d be more inclined to ask my kid what he or she thought the cause for something might be and let their imaginations run wild that way whilst getting them to think about things.

    And like Lulu, I always ate my crusts because I desperately wanted curly hair – mine’s still poker-straight, much to my disappointment – but I do love the crust off the loaf!

  4. First: people are, and have always been weird. The day I stop laughing at people’s reactions to things is the day I officially get old.

    Anyhow, moving on, the ‘white lies’ in the original post fall into three categories.

    1. White lies that are impossible to verify, and will have no affect on a child’s actions (e.g All fish are named either Lorna or Jack; Tiny bears live in drain pipes). I imagine I’ll have a fair few of these when I have kids. No problem at all there.

    2. Lies that were clearly told to elicit a certain behaviour in the child (e.g. If you are very very quiet you can hear the clouds rub against the sky; Before your eyeballs fall out from watching too much TV, they get very loose). Every parent does things to elicit certain actions in their child. If you say that you don’t, you are a liar (bribed your child with desert to get them to finish their dinner recently?). Again, no problem, I got told a fair few of these lies when I was young. You might even argue that it encourages discovery of the world, and independent fact-checking.

    3. Lies that appear to be fantasy, but hold a deeper, allegorical meaning. (e.g. We are all held together by invisible threads; I will always be there). I would argue that you SHOULD tell these to your kids. I believe they encourage spiritual growth. When they are young they will accept it as just fantasy and run with it; as they get older, if they question it, you can tell them the deeper meaning behind the phrase. (For example, “I will always be there” cannot be literally true; but to later expand on this by saying “we carry a part of each other in our hearts, always” gives a deeper spiritual meaning, and helps the child in times of grief or loneliness. They would definitely not be ready to hear this at age 3, however).

    By contrast, the answers in some of the replies (e.g. “point to the neighborhood dog and go, “See that, Timmy? That’s an elephant”) are nasty, manipulative lies. I wouldn’t wish these on any child.

    All of the above go towards confirming my pet theory: raise a child in a manner that seems like common sense to you, and your child will grow up to be just like you. It’s your choice whether your child will have a practical optimism, a fantastic delusion, or a cynically bitter world view.


  5. Oh and P.S. All the gripers should go and see Big Fish.

  6. OMG I (heart) Big Fish – you are so right, Neo-Olympian brother.

  7. Trying to remember the fun fanciful fibs my parents told me:

    – the crust one, definitely. And it worked, I had dead-straight hair my whole childhood, then puberty hit and *BAM* curls. Damn those crusts.

    – if you eat your carrots, you’ll be able to see in the dark (I actually think this one is based on some truth… Brett?)

    – television before school ruins your mind

    – hmmm… Brett might be able assist here. At the moment I am feeling a little ripped off! Although, maybe that’s just because I am like this commenter on the aforementioned debate:

    Hmm, I remember that my mom used to tell me stuff that was ‘wrong’ when I was little, but it seems like once I learned the actual thing the ‘wrong’ version simply got canceled disappeared from memory, like a dream. The only specific think I remember was mom saying that the week started on Monday, rather then Sunday, because for a long time I was thinking that the week did end on Monday, then thinking it could be either or depending.

    But it always seemed like the ones I forgot were more exotic.

  8. I think it’s “okay” to lie when the lie is easier to understand than the truth. There’s nothing wrong with it! I mean, here we are talking about all the little lies our parents used to tell us and they obviously did no harm. 🙂

    When my niece asked me how the man on Oprah was pregnant I said, “This can’t be real!!”… See, easier to understand than the truth! 😉

  9. Lies or little fibs told by parents – well it’s been interesting reading what both my darlings have written. Yes I am guilty of telling little white lies to both Jussie and Brett. Show me a child who has not been subjected to bribery at some stage and I guess he/she would be a saint. I cannot remember anything specific that I told to my kids but as a child myself I believe my Dad’s lie would take the cake. When I was the tender age of 8 my Mother was pregnant. Being a very naive young lass, I enquired from my Dad why Mum was getting fat – only to be told she was expected a baby giraffe. You can imagine my surprise when my baby brother was born. Yes you guessed it – sex education back in the early ’60s was non existent.

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