Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

What’s a little fib or two at Christmas?

  Posted on: December 20, 2017

Worried about telling a few tall tales over the holidays? Don't be. Your kids will be alright.

Dr. Heather Price, Canada Research Chair, Faculty of Arts.

“Now, the essence, the very spirit of Christmas is that we first make believe a thing is so, and lo, it presently turns out to be so.” – Stephen Leacock

Some might call it lying, but when the snow is falling, the lights are twinkling and the Christmas tunes are playing, lying is a harsh descriptor.

So, let’s call it “facilitating a child’s belief in improbable scenarios.” It’s something parents do a lot of at this time of year, but not without a twinge of guilt over the fact that as we stuff stockings, write on gift tags using our non-dominant hand, and painstakingly move that ridiculous elf AGAIN, we’re actually participating in behavior that we routinely advise our children against.

But parents don’t necessarily have to feel bad, says psychologist and Canada Research Chair Dr. Heather Price. Facilitate these improbable scenarios all you like — it’s totally cool — just don’t take it too far, or let it go on too long.

“Parents lie to their kids all the time about many things. This is certainly a more elaborate lie, but the problem isn’t necessarily in the lie itself, it’s in how you reveal the truth,” she said.

While the bulk of her research focuses on children and their engagement with the justice system, lately she’s been spending a lot of time researching children and lying, and children and secret-keeping.

And her advice to parents? Keeping secrets and telling lies can be totally fine.

“The Santa debate has been going on for a long time. People feel pretty strongly about it, one way or the other, but these elaborate deceptions can teach children good critical thinking skills. The violation of trust that parents fear when children find out doesn’t have to be a huge concern as long as you have a strong base of trust from which to build.”

The tricky part comes with age, she said. As children get older, and more mature, the secrets of the season become more and more difficult to keep under wraps. And that’s when it’s time to come clean.

“If you let it go too far, then it can be a problem, but if you let your children become little detectives, they can figure it out for themselves. And if you ‘fess up and bring them in on the secret, they are much less likely to feel that violation of trust,” she said.

In any case, lying is a great skill to have, and psychologically, it’s an important tool in the toolbox, and the age at which kids tell their first lie is associated with good social development.

“We should celebrate our kid’s first lie! By age six or seven, 90 per cent of kids lie in the right situations. Adults lie multiple times a day. We lie because we don’t want someone to feel bad. We lie because we don’t want to cause offense — nobody wants to hear the truth all the time.”

So, we can continue to facilitate these improbable scenarios, she says, and keep up with that mischievous elf, because even in pretending, we all get drawn into the magic of the season.


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