A simple but extremely important rule of thumb in child rearing is “Don’t lie to your child.” For example, telling your kids that the family pet has gone to a farm upstate when the animal is actually dead is a good example of this common mistake that parents make. When we bend the truth in these ways, it’s not, of course, malicious: We are trying to save our kids’ feelings. We may be unsure of how to handle these difficult situations, or just hoping to avoid the issue, but making things up or lying to protect your child from pain actually backfires because it distorts reality, which is unnecessary and potentially damaging.
It is important, though, to be sure your explanation is age-appropriate. A very young child does not need a long explanation of death or dying. Telling him or her a person was very old or very sick with a serious illness the doctors couldn’t make go away may be all that’s needed.
According to Sroufe, this parenting mistake also includes “distorting feelings,” which may involve “telling children they feel something that they in fact are not feeling or, more frequently, telling them they are not feeling what they in fact are feeling.” In other words, creating a discrepancy between what your child is experiencing and what you’re telling them they feel creates unnecessary distress.