‘The birds are watching!’ Mideast parents reveal white lies they tell kids

From Eid being cancelled to birds telling tales on the children – parents in the Middle East reveal their most imaginative kid fibs

Eve Dugdale
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How many times have you told a white lie to your children to make life a little easier?

Four in five parents in the UK tell them, according to a poll published in the Daily Mail newspaper recently.


With 62 per cent of British mums and dads using Father Christmas and lines such as “Don’t be naughty – Santa is watching” as a means to control their children’s behaviour, “We’ll see…” which is parent code for “It won’t happen” was also popular with parents.

And it’s not only over in Britain where mums and dads use white lies to maintain tip top behaviour standards.

Right here in the Middle East, we’re not afraid of making up the odd tale.

“I say that a bird whispers all to baba, this is how he comes to know what you are up to so that the children won’t know that mumma said a word to him!” says Ain U Khalil.

Birds are quite handy when it comes to white lies it seems as Noora Kalsoom admits: “I say that Allah will give you everything if you behave, that if you finish your food you will be strong like Batman and that the birdies are chirping because they are asking you to get up and get ready for school.”

Birds coaxing children out of bed is tame compared to the things people tell their children in Meem Maha’s home country of Yemen.
“It’s all about scaring kids!” she says.

“Parents say that all type of monsters and evil creatures will appear if they don’t listen and another one is that Eid is going to be mad and won’t come if you don’t do this or that.

“I never scare my boys and thank God my mom and dad never used to scare us. On the contrary, my sister used to tell her kids that if they lie God will be mad at them and take them to Hell then dad told her, instead of scaring them tell them if you are honest you will go to Heaven.”

Louise Button has certainly become creative with the lies she tells her children. She says: “I tell my kids there is a big bald man that roams the neighbourhood with a huge toothbrush and he goes into houses of children who haven’t cleaned their teeth and cleans the teeth himself with the massive toothbrush. Sometimes my husband knocks on the window to get things moving along nicely. Then I have to take pictures with my phone to send him of the clean teeth. If we’re out and I see a tall man I say “’look it’s the man, behave.’ They immediately step in line!”

But for parent and nursery teacher Myrtille Bert, it’s straight up honesty all the way.

She says: “I try not to tell any white lies to my children because I want to have a respectful honest relationship with them and I think it’s important to tell them the truth if I want them to be honest with me and grow up into honest people. Kids are smarter then we imagine and they know when we are lying.

“Telling the truth works better than white lies because it does not distress or scare the kids. For example, at the age of two my daughter was constipated for a long time and went through a phase when she wouldn’t want to eat any fruit or veggies. I kept offering veggies without insisting or bribing her. I just told her it would help her tummy push out the caca with no pain which is the truth. Eventually she understood and now when she eats her veggies she knows it’s to help her tummy and get vitamins to help her not getting sick.”

While it’s impressive that Myrtille can be honest with her children, Doctor Rawah Zeid says it’s OK to tell the odd magical white lie to a young child. However, the specialist paediatrician at NMC Royal Hospital, Abu Dhabi, stresses that honesty needs to prevail as they age.

She explains: “Before we understand lying to children, we need to understand the psychology of how children understand lies, i.e. how children perceive what we tell them.

“For a one-year-child, it is okay to tell white lies as it might be good for development - it protects their innocence and can even stimulate their imagination. Children at this age are not able to comprehend the truth of a lot of situations. I believe the same applies for the first few years of a child’s life. Some examples of white lies include a tooth that has fallen out which has been taken by the tooth fairy or Santa is watching you so you have to be good, etc.

“Between two to four-years-old, it is not believed that children have a clear idea of where lies and the truth begins, so we see these small fictional stories as harmless. I have never had a teen or adult come to me upset or confused that their parents told them these kind of white lies. It’s light hearted and actually brings some magic and fantasy to childhood.

At around four years of age, the doctor recommends starting to explain in a more adult way what is and is not OK and the reasons why. This is also when you are teaching children that they should not tell lies therefore you must lead by example.

She explains: “Between five and eight-years-old, children really begin to be able to appreciate the trust which is being formed when an adult is honest with them. They start understanding the concept of mutual trust, decency and morals, and very much form their own behaviors based on how they are being treated.

“As a child gets even older, a parent really must be straight. Children at this age can sense when parents are lying to them very easily and it can lead to distrust and suspicion. Sometimes it can make a child feel silly, as though they are not trusted with the truth or that an adult assumes they will not understand or appreciate the truth.”

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