Lying to Children

The Torah says, Midvar sheker tirhak (distance yourself from falsehood), and repeatedly extols truth and decries falsehood. Still, Judaism doesn’t expressly forbid lying and recognizes that occasional lying may have justification. I recently took part in a discussion where parents defended lying in order to help children deal with a difficult question or situation.

Last night we attended an event in memory of my mother-in-law, whose yahrzeit (anniversary of death) fell on Shabbat. My 3yo daughter called (her older brother helped dial) and asked when I was coming home. “Later,” I replied. “I want you to come home now!” She was certain to fall asleep before we got home whenever we left and I could have easily told her we were on our way. But I didn’t (couldn’t) and she cried.

I would sympathize with a parent who chose differently in such a case. Below I list reasons I avoid lying to my children, even when there are extenuating circumstances.

  1. I avoid lying to anyone, and because I most value the relationships within my own family I try to be straight even with my young children. Older children in earshot provide added incentive!
  2. I don’t want my kids to lie to anyone either. Especially me.
  3. Even if I can justify it, lying isn’t a skill I wish to cultivate. I feel that by lying I would be training myself to fool my children.
  4. Lies can come back. At the time, it seems like a one-shot deal, but I might be asked to repeat or expand on it later. You never can predict what details children remember, especially in stressful situations or when something strikes them as off.
  5. I want my children to trust me. If they catch me in a lie about a small thing, they may not believe me about the important things. My friends know when they ask sincerely I will give a tactfully honest opinion, and they’ll never get false flattery.

My parents answered my questions honestly. I trusted them enough so that even when I could tell they weren’t sharing everything, I assumed they had a good reason. Belief in my parents’ integrity was such a fundamental part of my existence that I never questioned the need for honesty with children.


  1. mama o' matrices says

    Makes a lot of sense to me. Obviously, my approach is shaped by the needs of the family/child, but I’ve found that having the child trust me in the long term is crucial, and worth a tear or two in the short term.
    End result? The Eldest asks me, ‘will this hurt?’ and I can tell him, unflinchingly, ‘yes, but we can work through it.’
    Don’t kid yourself – the response from the child isn’t always a calm one, but it is a trusting one. But that’s the measure of *my* parenting: whether the child works with me when he’s hurting or not, angry or not.
    Different homes, different standards shaped by different needs.

  2. good for you. you are better off not lying even on the small seemingly insignificant things. once you start, you never know where you will end up

  3. Jerusalem Joe says

    You just wrote the best book I have read about child rearing.
    Do you need a publisher?

  4. I agree with you 100%. How can a child trust a parent if the parent lies? And if you lose a child’s trust, how can you possibly be an effective parent?
    That’s why I was absolutely shocked when someone gave a speech in praise of him mother that recounted the time she told him she would buy him an elaborate construction set so that he would let her leave for the evening out with his father. She never bought it. He made it sound like she was in the right to lie to him to get the results she wanted. But I thought this is just appalling. I would die of shame if a child of mine were to recount such a thing about me. While children will sometimes try to trap me into something like, “so if I clean my room, then I could get .. .” or the like, I say not to put words in my mouth or box me into conditions like that. I don’t want to be associated with even an implied promise.

  5. mominisrael says

    Thanks, Rafi.
    MoM–whether the child works with me when he’s hurting or not, angry or not.
    I like that line and am going to keep it in mind for the next conflict (meaning in about five minutes).
    JJ–Hardly anyone reads this blog, so why would anyone buy my book? Still, you made my day. Thanks.
    Ariella–My reaction would be the same. On a similar note I heard a parent tell about promising to buy a bicycle for a child if she would do well in school. It turned out later that she had learning disabilities, and never got the bicycle because she didn’t have the tools she needed to succeed. In this case the parents regretted their promise.

  6. Mother in Israel, you bring up a possible topic for a post or several –promising prizes, or just bribing children. My children devour many books, which is why I usually have over 40 items checked out on my library card, and I don’t offer any incentives to read other than the pleasure they will derive directly from the book. But one of my son’s classmates used to get 50 cents for ech book he read. They asked for that, too. But I refused 1)I would become bankrupt very fast 2) there is no need to reward them for what they enjoy doing anyway. The questions arises what about rewarding them for other things? My daughter suggests she should get money for getting good grades. But I disagree. She should do her best, and if her best earns her a 100, that’s great, but if she pulls an 87 doing her best, that is also fine. I do, though, sometimes offer some money for certain chores, or just give a dollar after the fact for something done to help the household. My son earns the most out of all of them for such activities.

  7. This is something I definitely agree with as a kid. Also from babysitting and hadracha, I have a slightest hint of a glimpse of what it is to be a parent. I can say from both sides trust is much more important than whatever temporarily may be gained.

  8. Love this post and it reminds me that we need to put French Fries on the list for my son. He really wanted to “eat out” which means have french fries and ketchup. But we were heading back from a simcha in the car and we told him that if he was a good boy and didn’t cry and complain for the next 2 hours that we would get him french fries from the freezer section at the grocery. Turns out it was pouring when we got back and he hasn’t asked. But I want to be trusted, so we will go get those french fries in the morning.
    Also, I love Ariella’s suggestion on a post about rewards/bribes.

  9. mominisrael says

    Seraphya, good to see you. Thanks for posting your perspective. Did you get my email?
    Ariella and SL–I definitely have strong views on the subject of rewards–maybe I will get to it one day!

  10. Hope you get to it. We aren’t big on rewards in this house, but use them from time to time to encourage a change in behavior. I don’t bride, except for potty training, which I haven’t been particularly successful with, partly due to the cold weather.