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Culture » Culture Features

Whatever, Mom

The Honesty Taboo



I imagine the inside of a child's brain to look a little something like this:

???????????????????? (and so on and so on).

It's no surprise they want answers from you—all day, every day. But before you go nurturing those curious little minds, remember this: to your children, your word is gold. And when gold loses value, it's not nearly as precious. So each time you think about sheltering the kiddos from reality by feeding them little (or big) lies, keep in mind that you're only training them to fear the truth—yours included.

This kind of parental behavior is unnecessary and potentially damaging, says developmental expert L. Alan Sroufe, a psychologist and professor at the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development.

"We may be unsure of how to handle these difficult situations," Sroufe says, "but making things up or lying to protect your child from pain actually backfires, because ultimately it distorts reality."

Try a little honesty instead...

For starters, get rid of the cutesy nicknames for your kid's gender-specific body parts. Your son does not have a "wee-wee," and your daughter enjoys real cookies way too much for that kind of confusion.

Like it or not, penises and vaginas are what they are. We don't refer to our elbows as something they're not, so why should there be so much shame in calling our privates by their anatomically-correct names? You can still teach the proper respect without using code words, which—let's face it—are most likely for your own selfish comfort, anyway. I mean, god forbid your three-year-old announce to the entire grocery store that her vagina itches.

And on that note, you should also stop giving birds, bees and storks so much credit. I may not know your personal "how I became a parent" story, but however your little human came to be, he or she should learn the truth. And by truth, I don't mean every dirty detail that no one outside your bedroom needs to hear... just simple, age-appropriate honesty. My five-year-old recently challenged me on this one (again):

"Mom, how was I made?"

"Out of love," I told him.

Like I said—age-appropriate honesty.

Now, as for all your Santa over-indulgers, age follows no boundaries. Sorry folks, but the Santa lie is still a lie. And building up this fantasy that's only going to crush your little Rudolph-loving kiddo someday (not to mention damage your credibility) just isn't worth it. Kids need to know they can count on mom and dad to tell them the truth, even about some mythical figure like Santa Claus.

I'm not saying you should go all Ebenezer Scrooge on them and kill their Christmas spirit. Or that you should disregard their delight in the make-believe. Just be careful how much of the story you confuse with reality. Because that million-dollar question is inevitable.

Besides, masking the truth to highlight your kid's innocence is only going to harm them (and you) in the long run. Seriously—how can you expect your children to be honest with you if you're doing the opposite with them?

Draw your own limitations, but speak to them candidly. Someday, you're going to be the one wanting answers.

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