Telling My Toddler the Truth


Saying “no” to a toddler doesn’t always go over so well. Sometimes there is a meltdown or tantrum; crying and ear-piercing expressions of displeasure. It is *really* uncomfortable to deal with a child flailing around who is mad about the bad news you delivered about leaving the library or not being able to have that sugary treat.

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It is so much easier in the short term to say that the cookies aisle is empty today or that the library is about to close.

I see it in parenting videos on Youtube and in “funny” memes on Facebook… parents teasingly bragging about all of the white lies they tell their kids to avoid tantrums, meltdowns, or fights.

But even if it makes things harder in the short term, I won’t tell stories to my toddler.

Though I have instinctively done this from the start, it wasn’t until I read “Elevating Childcare: A Guide to Respectful Parenting,” by Janet Lansbury, that I saw how being honest and accepting the unpleasant push back really impacts a lot of our family life.


(Like any parenting philosophy or book, we do not agree with every last thing Janet says in Elevating Childcare, and her other book, “No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame”. However, much of what she has to say, especially in regards to toddlers, has tremendously helped us in parenting.

Trust Me, Kid

I want Philomena to trust me. I am her primary teacher about the world around her. If she knows mommy doesn’t always tell her the truth, why should she believe me when I tell her big and little truths about our Faith or the world around us?


“How can there be no cereal in the cupboard now but it reappear tomorrow? Is the burner really hot, or does mommy just not want me to have fun helping cook now? I know she sometimes says things that aren’t true…”

And she will figure it out eventually. Even if I can pull a fast one over her now… what about when she is older? She’ll see I am telling Zelie that we can’t buy any toys today because the toy scanner is broken, but Philomena knows by now that those toys absolutely are for sale and I’m fibbing.

I want to lead by example that honesty is important. Telling the truth, even if it doesn’t garner a pleasant reaction, is still a form of respect.

Lets Get Real

If I lie about why she can’t have something she wants I am going to give her unrealistic expectations about life. “Hey, if they weren’t closing right now we could stay and play all day!” or “If the ice cream was not all eaten up, I would be fine with you having another bowl.”

But that’s not reality. I want her to understand we need to leave because I am tired and Zelie is ready to nap. I need her to learn that she can’t have another bowl of ice cream because too much sugar is bad for us, not because it is mysteriously ran out.

I want her to eventually see that limits are there for real, logical reasons, and work through the frustration she feels about those limits, instead of setting up illogical scenarios to avoid the feelings right now.

I Won’t Rob Her

Every time we lie to our kids to avoid an unpleasant reaction, we are actually robbing them of the chance to feel hard emotions and learn to deal with them.

Janet Lansbury actually featured this photo I sent to her on her Facebook page. Ethan is explaining to Philomena that we needed to go get a blood draw done related to her allergies. He truthfully told her why we were going to the doctor, that it would hurt some like it did last time, but then it would be over and he would be with her the whole time. She did amazingly.

We think we are saving them from their bad feelings, but in reality we are saving ourselves from having to deal with reactions that are uncomfortable or frustrating for us. And I get it… listening to whining/crying/tantrums is really hard…

We don’t want to hear crying. Hearing and acknowledging our children’s emotions can be intensely challenging…The secret to connecting is to meet children where they are. Listen patiently and acknowledge…We don’t want to be the bad guy…(but) children need simple, truthful, empathetic, but direct responses…The parent who confronts situations honestly, acknowledging the child’s point of view and possible (more like probable) displeasure may worry about being the bad guy, but this will be the “trusted”, genuine guy, the brave person the child feels closest to and safest with.” ~ Janet Lansbury, Elevating Childcare

Not being able to eat endless cookies is just a reality, and it is OK for her to feel frustrated with the limits of sugar that we can have so as to not hurt our body. Sheesh, I’m still dealing with this reality as an adult. (I mean, have you read my post about gaining weight from all my late night sugary snacking?)

Instead of quickly hiding them and saying they are all gone, I will be honest. “No, love, we need to put the cookies away now. You can have more at X time” and deal with her emotions. Its usually just a matter of briefly empathizing, “you really wanted more cookies. I understand, it’s frustrating when our treat is all gone” and she will move on, knowing she has been heard.

Long Run Payoff

I feel like while the honesty policy can be more difficult in the beginning, it pays off over time.

Philomena doesn’t throw many tantrums, and when she does they are short-lived. When I say no to something; she knows that I am telling her what the reality of the situation is and am going to follow through. I think being consistent and honest about things has helped with this.


Honesty also saves us from a lot of work.

If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” ~ Mark Twain

I don’t need to quickly whisper to Ethan what the story is about x item I am hiding from her, or how the park was closed this afternoon before he offers to take her where I had not wanted to go earlier.

It Isn’t Always Easy

There are times I know when what I am about to say is going to make Philomena very upset. As much as I dread the eruption that follows, I take a deep breath and calmly tell the truth, always glad when we have weathered the storm afterwards.

Telling the truth is helping us both grow, and building a bond of trust worth the tears and frustration when things just can’t go our way.


17 thoughts on “Telling My Toddler the Truth

  1. I love Janet Lansbury! And I agree, telling my children the truth has been one of the greatest discoveries of my parenting. I especially find that stating the truth of what they are feeling in the moment helps to diffuse tantrum frustration, especially for toddlers who are mostly non-verbal: “You are mad because I wouldn’t let you have the knife”. Learning this has really helped my parenting. Yes, I think my children trust me!
    I enjoy your blog!


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