7 Lies We Tell Our Children

We all lie to our kids. Sometimes it’s on purpose and for what we deem a good purpose. Sometimes it’s because we so want them to believe something, to feel better, to overcome a challenge, or to work through pain that we will say anything to try to help. Sometimes it’s because we’re idiots and just don’t realize what we’re doing. Here are seven of the most common lies parents tell kids.

1) You can do anything you set your mind to.

Right. Except for all the things you aren’t good at and simply aren’t wired for. Every child can do something well, usually lots of things. But no child can do everything, and we do them a disservice if we encourage them to pursue things they simply can’t succeed at. The challenge is knowing when to let them fail and when to convince them to avoid the road to failure.

2) It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks.

C’mon, parents. We don’t even believe this. We want to, but we don’t. We are trying to give our children a sense of security and self-confidence that we never developed. And, in fact, what people think does matter. It doesn’t change our children’s value or worth. But it matters because it hurts or helps. It matters because it lifts up or tears down. We know this because we feel it every day.

3) Good grades matter most.

Few of us would actually say this. We know we’re supposed to say that character and faith matter most. But our actions often give lie to these sentiments. In a thousand little ways we show our kids that their report card is their validation. We reward the grades but not the effort, overlooking the sweat and tears that went into that B-minus. We give our A-type oldest children achievement complexes that come back to bite them in the butt semester one of college when they get their first B ever. We devalue non-academic talents and soft skills (skills which will actually serve them far better than algebra two) in the pursuit of honor-roll parent status.

4) Don’t worry about the results; it’s effort that counts.

The answer to lie #3 is not lie #4. Results do matter. They matter a lot in life, and isn’t life what we are preparing kids for. There are times to comfort a crestfallen child with encouragement about how hard they tried. But they also need to be encouraged with successes. We need to praise their improvement and their results – learning an instrument, giving a speech, shooting a basket, driving a car, getting that B-minus. And we must remember that success is not a static standard. It is different from child to child and from instance to instance. Effort absolutely counts, and generally it leads to good results. But our kids need to learn that sometimes it simply isn’t enough to try hard.

5) It’s the thought that counts.

This is like the lazy version of lie #4. “If you think nice thoughts that’s good enough.” Since when? Learn to express your nice thoughts. Write them well. Give gifts. Make something. Show affection. Be present. Be attentive. Do the work and make the effort to turn thoughts into something visible, tangible, and memorable. The thought counts when it becomes action otherwise it’s just wasted latent potential.

6) Good job, buddy.

This could be the tagline for today’s parents. You finished your French fries? Good job, buddy! You played a lazy game of soccer and lollygagged through the second half? Good job, buddy! You did a simple thing every child should be expected to do? Good job, buddy! Kids need affirmation. But over-affirming the basic standards of behavior or even poor behavior pushes our kids towards a perpetual need for praise for stuff that deserves none. Many of the jobs our kids do are good in that they are done, but the doing doesn’t deserve applause. Acknowledgement, yes. Even a thank you. But not praise. They are just a part of life. And the more we praise the mundane and the expected the cheaper our praise becomes for those things that actually deserve it.

7) It will be ok, I promise.

This is the lie told with the best intentions. It is what we say when our children are frightened or hurt and we can’t do a thing about it. We cannot fix it. We cannot heal it. So we say, “the Sun will come out tomorrow” – it will be ok. But we don’t know that. Tomorrow might be worse. We cannot promise it will be ok. I mean, we know it will be ok because God promised it would be, but He didn’t promise we would feel better.

So maybe this isn’t a lie. Certainly not if we point them to promises that will be kept. Not if we tell them, yes, it will hurt but God is still good. Not if we say we will stand by them and help them and pray for them. “It will be ok” is a cheap phrase on it’s own – a platitude we utter in helpless moments. But it doesn’t have to be. It can be lift their little eyes to something and someone bigger than themselves that will not fail them.

I live in the Nashville area and spend my days helping churches with leadership development. My nights are spent writing and rooting for Minnesota sports teams. I also podcast a bit. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, and The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life