How Much of the Truth Should You Tell Your Kids?
Parents have a big responsibility raising children, but they often find themselves in a quandary over how much of the truth to tell their kids.
Dr. Anita Gadhia-Smith, a Washington, D.C. psychiatrist who counsels individuals, couples and families, offers her thoughts on the topic.
No one-size-fits all.
The issue is complex. As Dr. Gadhia-Smith sees it, there is no one-size-fits-all manual for raising kids. “First-time parents will go through a trial an error process, and each child within a family may be very different,” she says. “In general, children do have very different levels of comprehension, depending on individual personality development and age.”
As for whether there’s an age-appropriate version of the truth, Dr. Gadhia-Smith says that children under five cannot comprehend the complexity of life and relational issues that an older child can. “The older the child, the greater the need for fully honest disclosure and guidance that will help the child integrate and set their own value system.”
Don’t lie but don’t tell all either.
A big question is whether it’s ever OK for parents to lie to their kids. Here’s where it comes down to using good judgment.
“In general, it is not advisable to lie,” Dr. Gadhia-Smith says. “However, it is not always advisable to tell all either. Parents need to use their own inner guidance about what feels right to them. Some children are more mature than others, but you also don’t want to parentify a child and use them as your support system.”
When outside support systems may be best
What about one parent unloading all his or her emotional anguish on the kids, perhaps over a divorce, separation or break-up? This could very well be too much of an emotional burden for the children. Dr. Gadhia-Smith has some clear advice for parents to avoid such an inappropriate emotional dump on their kids.
Indeed, if a parent is going through a separation or divorce, Dr. Gadhia-Smith says it is best for everyone involved if each person has their own support system outside of the family.
“Psychotherapy can be very helpful for children who are struggling with divided loyalties and feeling caught in the middle between divorcing parents,” she says. “Parents need to be mindful not to use their children as their best friend or therapist. It may be tempting, as they are readily available, but the impact on the child could be detrimental.”