Toddler Discipline: Lying and Rudeness

Which would you say is the lesser of two evils?  A child who is rude or a child that lies?

I found myself caught in this paradox recently…  In Nurture Shock, we learned that one of the reasons why kids lie is because parents unwittingly teach them to.   How do we do that?  In the manner of white lies.

What’s a white lie?

A white lie is defined as a “trivial, diplomatic, or well-intentioned untruth”.  It is harmless and usually bears some benefit to the person who hears it because it is intended to spare their feelings.  Adults commonly use white lies to avoid hurting people in matters where we deem the truth is unnecessary and painful.

The problem with a white lie

A young child cannot distinguish the difference between a white lie from a full blown lie with all the bells and whistles.  To a young child, a lie is a lie.  In the logic of a child – if a white lie is okay, then all lies must be acceptable.  Therefore a child that hears their parents stating white lies (or worse still – be encouraged to state white lies by their parents) inevitably learn that lying is okay.

Here’s an example of a situation where we accidentally teach our children to lie:

Our child receives a present and opens it.  The giver asks, “Do you like the present?”

We can see instantly that our child is not at all impressed by the gift.  Not wanting to hurt the feelings of the giver, we tell our child to say that he likes it even when it is clear that he doesn’t.

The problem with kids, white lies and rudeness

We have to accept there are two things about children that are inevitable – they live in the moment and they generally truthful to the point of brutality (until they learn to lie).  When a child says: “I don’t like you.”  He means exactly that – he doesn’t like you right now.  That’s not to say that he doesn’t like you ever.  He just doesn’t like you right now.  A child might say that to a stranger whom he’s barely met and doesn’t really know.  Such blunt statements are rude and hurtful and, as parents, we often get embarrassed by such comments.  We immediately insist that the child change his statement.

To an adult, the offer of the white lie is a smaller offense in the whole scheme of things.  Rather than being rude, it is preferable to the adult that the child lie about his feelings.  Unfortunately, it communicates a completely different message to the child – that lying, all kinds of lying, is acceptable.

As a parent, which do you feel is the lesser of two evils – for your child to be lacking in decorum, or for your child to lie?

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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