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As working parents, sometimes my wife and I resort to lying to our children when we are going to work, going out or leaving them behind in the house. If I have time I normally try to talk to my daughter, giving her reasons why I need to leave the house. This generally works if I have the time. If I don't I sometimes take the easy way out and tell the maid to take her upstairs a while or out for a little while, then proceed to sneak out.

My question is, will this kind of "lying" to her have any long lasting psychological effects of her when she grows up ? What would be a better way ?

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uh yeah, they know when you are lying, and they will eventually start to call you out on it, and not trust you at all. –  Jarrod Roberson Jan 15 at 6:19

8 Answers 8

Parents often try to keep their children from ever having to be uncomfortable. It's a laudable goal, but not only is it unattainable, it often backfires to make it worse.

The least traumatic in the long term way to leave the house is to have a going away ritual and a coming home ritual. Say, "I'm going to work," give them a hug, be happy, and leave quickly.

They will cry for a while, but it will become shorter and shorter, and eventually they won't cry at all and will look forward to the ritual.

When you try to sneak away, that teaches them their fears are founded, that going away is a scary thing that even brave adults try to avoid. She'll not only be traumatized when you leave for work, but when you go into another room, because she has no guarantee of how long you will be gone.

Same goes when you prolong a goodbye ritual. In trying to spare them some trauma, you inadvertently prolong it. Most kids stop crying a minute or so after you leave. The most sensitive might go for 10-15 minutes. If you spend 10 minutes saying goodbye, usually that just means 10 extra minutes of crying.

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This! I went through this when I started taking my son to daycare. He got upset the first couple of times, and now he's fine when I leave. Yet I see a little boy who has been there for almost a year who still sobs even before his dad leaves... his dad stays 5-10 minutes trying to comfort the kid each time, before giving up and leaving. As soon as he leaves, though, the boy stops crying within a minute or two. –  Beofett Jan 15 at 14:35
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A child crying when a parent leaves, and crying when they see the parent reappear at the end of the day, is a sign of a strong attachment. It is a positive sign, although hard to deal with. Your point about a routine and this getting easier over time is excellent - building trust makes the child feel more secure. –  DanBeale Jan 15 at 15:01

I don't see that you're lying to her when you send her to her room and then sneak out - that sounds more like tricking her.

My question is, will this kind of "lying" to her have any long lasting psychological effects of her when she grows up ?

I am not a psychologist but I don't think this will give her permanent problems. But it can very well give her problems during her early childhood! Tricking her that often (and not occasionally, with the purpose of entertainment) will make her not trust you because she will never know whether you'll be downstairs or not, and uncertainty makes her uncomfortable. We all fear the unknown.

What would be a better way ?

Neither lying nor tricking should be necessary for the purpose of going to work. I would suggest that you tell her plainly that you are going to leave for work, and of course promise that you will return before it gets dark (use some time reference that she can understand). She will have to learn that you must be away for a while most days, but she must also learn to trust that you always return.

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This works somewhat but normally ends up with me having to reward her in someway to tolerate my absence. The full house of toys is testament to this. The mother has not been so successful however and still has to sneak around. –  Low Kian Seong Jan 15 at 9:24
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@LowKianSeong You have to reward her in some way... because you've been rewarding her (actually, bribing her). You've established it as a means of getting her to accept your absence, so of course she's going to continue to want these bribes. It is natural for a toddler to be upset when a parent leaves. How you respond to them being upset establishes the pattern for how they will behave. It will be tough the first few times, but if you leave, and she cries because you leave, it won't do any lasting harm. Simply say "mommies and daddies always come back." It's preferable to lies or bribes. –  Beofett Jan 15 at 14:32
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@LowKianSeong: You don't have to reward her. It's only a habit - and one you need to break! Otherwise that is something that definitely will leave a lasting impression in her psyche: she will expect to be rewarded for behavior that ought to be expected. This is an evil circle of entitlement that will become very expensive and never satisfying. Break that habit before your child gets older! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 15 at 15:56

Don't make the mistake of confusing your child's comfort with your own. You think you are trying to make your child feel better about you leaving, but really you're trying to make yourself feel better about leaving.

Children go through multiple stages where they have separation anxiety; that's normal. Addressing them properly helps their development; having a good routine, talking to them about the separation, reminding them that it will be temporary. Children don't have a good understanding of temporary versus permanent until they are fairly old, so that's often the hardest part.

Not addressing the separation anxiety simply prolongs it. Staying longer because they want you not to leave is counterproductive - it teaches them that if they cry, you won't go.

Lying to them won't work very well over time, because you're just avoiding the separation anxiety, not addressing it. It's like ignoring your creditor's phone calls - sure, you can avoid the difficult conversation about not paying your bills, but it doesn't make the bills go away.

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I am not aware of any unusual long term psychological effects this may cause. But from an educational point of view this of course contributes to your kids development, depending on how often you lie to them and how severe the lies are.

Always remember that children will assume their parents behaviour as the prototypical human behaviour, when learning patterns. If you lie a lot they will learn that lying is a valid (or even the) way of doing things or accomplishing effects. Means, they will start lying a lot.

As initially stated, this is not an unusual effect. Neither is it rare, irreversible or will cause psychological conditions. It just means you are not just "lying" or "tricking" your kids, you are actually teaching them how to lie and trick. This maybe an unwanted effect, but needn't result into mental conditions.

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Good point! By modeling this behavior, the parents are actually teaching her that it's okay and normal to deceive, to lie, to trick, in order to do whatever you want. The girl will do a lot of things behind the parents' back, and that can have serious consequences. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 15 at 15:58

I don't lie to my children out of principle, but I also think that lying to them will eventually teach them not to trust you (as much). As a parent, this is not a situation I want to be in. When I say, "Don't come into the kitchen while I'm frying hamburgers, you could get hurt," I want the child to believe me. This is not a lesson that must be learned the hard way.

If your child as having separation anxiety about a parent leaving the house, I suggest that the child has some (even temporary) needs that aren't being met with regards to the amount of time you spend with her. There are children who are naturally confident and self-reliant, but most aren't, so it's up to the parent to build the child's confidence that mom and dad will always come home eventually and spend time with her, because it's time with you that she really, really wants.

Lying probably won't cause psychological problems, but it may put a strain on your relationship with her, and whether a psych diagnoses her with an ailment or not, strained relationships with parents are a real source of problems for children, especially when they get older (10-12 and up, in American culture).

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Lying or tricking her now doesn't really seem like a harmful thing at the moment but it will soon become a habit. And when this occurs your child will gradually stop believing what you say or worse still think its okay to do the same to you as they grow older.

Possible Solution: Since this is an everyday thing and you have no choice but to go to work I would suggest sitting your kid down and talking to her about. Also plan fun activities for when you come back - like a trip to get some icecream or some family gametime/tea party etc so that they have something to look forward to throughout the day. This will also shift the focus from the time that you leave to the time that you come home!

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You should explain things to your kids. The rule is that stop speaking as soon as they change the subject and follow their lead.

White lies will always come up now and again (eg. Father Christmas) but you should credit the children with more ability to understand than you appear to be giving them right now.

An example: I have a daughter, nearly three, who plays everything out. Whatever happens she will incorporate it into her narrative with her favourite doll. This could be about sleeping difficulties, missing her mother or me during the working day; or even working through the pain of seeing her brothers arguing with each other or us. A recent brief trip to the US for me produced a huge and repetitive narrative that we worked through patiently and thoroughly.

Children use their imagination constructively and as a means of integrating events and experiences from the world around them. Do not deny them this, be more honest with yourselves and them.

Additionally find short stories/picture books that relate to the situation you have and read them with the child. This will help the process.

You have staff.. if the maid is the de-facto childminder then you may as well work on making the ritual one of waving mum/dad goodbye. Then work through the resulting narrative later and with good humour, dramatise it for your toddler, they love allegory and a good laugh with you.

Enjoy the toddler time, it doesn't last long.

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Only if you get caught! White lies happen all the time when rearing children (in our house). I'm always telling mine I used to be an astronaut or something. Keep it light, keep it fun. Don't be so serious, kids are resiliant. Just make sure they know the difference between outright lies... and not to tell them themselves!

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