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Don’t deny it: The lies we tell our kids

Yes, even the most virtuous among us tells their child the occasional whopper. Can’t hurt, right? Redbook magazine examines the oft-used parenting tool.
/ Source: TODAY

If you say you've never lied to your kid, you're probably, well, stretching the truth a little. Your fib may have been as innocuous as "There aren't any Fudgeos left" or as significant as "Fluffy went to live on a farm," but face it: The judiciously deployed lie is as much a part of a mother's arsenal as hand sanitizer and string cheese. In fact, 84 percent of REDBOOK readers recently surveyed admit to lying to their kids about once a month.

We moms tend to beat ourselves up about fibbing; more than 76 percent of the readers we surveyed said they felt guilty about telling their kids a lie. But the untruths that fly out of your mouth in times of duress (read: tantrum at the mall) aren't going to permanently damage your kids. Ditto for those "developmental" lies that help kids kick bad behaviors or habits ("If you don't stop sucking your thumb, it might fall off!"). In fact, sometimes, massaging the truth is the most responsible thing to do. "Part of your job as a parent is to cater what you divulge to the age and development of your child," says Michele Borba, author of "12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know." "Often, it's smarter to tell just a little part of the story rather than the whole messy truth." Saying that Dad isn't going to work because his office closed may not paint an accurate picture of how he got laid off, your finances are a mess, and you won't be going on vacation any time soon, but it gives your kid enough information to grasp why things are tense around the house.

What's more, a little dishonesty is called for if the truth would be needlessly hurtful to the listener — an important lesson in kindness to model for your kids. Telling Grandma her fruitcake is delectable may be complete hooey, but it's the right thing to do after she put her heart and soul into crafting the confection. And then there are those tall tales we tell our kids about Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and their pals — yes, they're technically lies, but they help us create traditions that give kids a sense of wonder and joy.

Obviously, you don't want to make lies a daily part of your repertoire, says Borba. Children watch their parents like hawks and eventually will catch on. "In the short term, if you're caught in a small lie, your kid is a little miffed and you're embarrassed," says Nancy Darling, a professor of psychology at Oberlin College. "But in the long term, being caught in repeated lies means our kids learn we can't really be trusted. Kids need their parents to be a rock of certainty, and each lie is a chip off that certainty." Plus, children of parents who fib frequently are better at deception themselves — and employ it more often. Most important, every time you lie to avoid a difficult topic, such as sex or illness, you miss a precious opportunity to talk openly and honestly with your children and communicate that they can always turn to you, even when what they have to say is awkward or unpleasant.

Still, don't beat yourself up for the occasional whopper — we were hard-pressed to find a devoted mom who didn't have a hilarious confession to share. Here are the best (or worst?) lies of the bunch:

"One day at the shore, the twins saw my mother eating ice cream. They asked, 'What is Nonna eating?' and because we didn't want them to have ice cream yet, I told them, 'She's eating cauliflower.' "Melisa Tropeano LaTour, 36, Cranford, NJ, mom to Rocco and Venezia, 4

"When our children were younger and we were exhausted, we would set the upstairs clocks ahead an hour and start the bedtime routine early. The children never caught on, even though the clocks downstairs showed a different time. We never felt guilty: They got a little extra sleep, and we got some gleeful grown-up time! We eventually told the children about it, and it doesn't seem to have made them trust us less; the oldest one even thinks we are pretty clever for having pulled it off!"Lynn Meltzer, 42, Framingham, MA, mom to Harry, 15, Eliza, 12, and Sophie, 9

"My kids like chicken above all else. In order to get them to diversify their diet, I began serving tilapia and telling them it was chicken with a different taste. They bought it, so I cooked them salmon and told them it was pink chicken. They ate it ... but with great hesitation. I'm not sure they believed me that time." Patti Lenkov, 47, New York City, mom to Gabriella, 9, and Ethan and Brandon, 7

"I have told our daughter multiple times that our dogs scared away the tooth fairy. This was done, of course, because Mom and Dad weren't able to remember to put money under the pillow! We hope there won't be any long-term emotional damage."Julie Smith, 47, Long Beach, CA, mom to Mackenzie, 9

"We were watching TV, and a character said something about a porno. Maggie looked up at me with her big, green eyes and asked, 'Mom, what's a porno?' I couldn't handle being straightforward, and for some reason Jiffy Pop came to my mind. I told Maggie, 'It's old-fashioned popcorn' and gave a brief description of how the container gets real big and puffs up, and when it fills up the tinfoil, it's ready! She looked at me and said, 'We'll have to try a porno sometime.' My friends have suggested I tell her the truth before she invites a friend over for a movie and some porno."Gretchen Anderson, 47, Eagle, ID, mom to Hannah, 14, Woody, 13, Maggie, 9, and stepkids Whitney, 28, and Zachary, 24

"I once told my kids that there was no need to worry about witches — they all live in Florida."Cinda Donovan, 51, Scituate, MA, mom to Carly, 21, and Kyle, 18

"When my son was 3, we decided it was time to take away his pacifier. We knew he wouldn't give it up willingly, so we devised a plan. One day when he was at preschool, I gathered all his Nuks and dipped them in Tabasco sauce. That night, John sucked his Nuk a couple of times and brought it to me asking that I rinse it off. I ran it under water and handed it back to him. 'It's still yucky,' he complained. 'Oh, no,' I replied, 'I think your Nuk has gone rotten.' I explained that, like bananas, Nuks go rotten — and it happens when a child is about to turn 3. That night, John went to bed without a Nuk."Erin Wombacher, 39, Minneapolis, mom to John, 5

"Whenever I heard the telltale click of one of my kids unbuckling their car seat harnesses, I would pull over to the side of the road and kill the engine. I would say aloud, 'Gosh, I wonder what's wrong with the car.' I would peer into the back seat. 'Did one of you unbuckle your car seat? Ah, that's it! The engine won't work if the seat belt isn't buckled!' I would snap the buckles, turn the key, and off we'd go! From then on, my kids were convinced the car wouldn't work if their seat belts weren't fastened."Welmoed Sisson, 48, Gaithersburg, MD, mom to Ian, 19, and Diana, 17

"I was a single mom for a long time and often traveled internationally with my young son. When he was 3, I told him that if he kicked the seat in front of him on a plane, the pilot would come back and throw him off without a parachute. Harsh, I know, but I was usually so exhausted`... and my child has never, ever kicked a seat on a plane!"Diane Danielson, 41, Cohasset, MA, mom to Andrew, 9Reprinted by permission of Redbook magazine. © 2009 Hearst Communication, Inc. All Rights Reserved. To read more from Redbook, you can visit their site at: