How do parents deceive their children?


This intriguing question came up on Quora. Here’s what popped into my head:

We try, every day, to override our children’s body awareness, opinions, and feelings with our own.

“You’re full? No, you didn’t eat much. Just take one more bite.”
“You don’t want to wear that.”
“Oh, you’re not hurt.”
“Quit that crying.”
“It’s not a big deal, geez. It’s just chicken.”
“No no no, don’t say that; you’re amazing at drawing.”

Is it any surprise when our children eventually lose their ability to listen to their instincts? Or when they ignore their body’s signals? Or are no longer certain what they want, feel, or need?

I love this line from Language of Listening founder Sandy Blackard: What we like and what we want are who we really are.

If we take this to heart, we can start to see that our child is really ____ even though we always imagined or kind of hoped for ____. We can begin to accept it, acknowledge it, and find ways to foster it. We can begin to notice where we might have inadvertently been making our child feel wrong for wanting or liking those things.

And maybe reclaim, without apology, what we want and like, too.

(If you like my answer, you can vote for it here.)


A reader, Naomi, asked whether this only encourages kids to listen to their “inner monkey”:


My thoughts:

It’s so true that young children are “in the moment.”

Yes, “I’m full” can mean “I want to go play.” But do we answer, “You’re not full,” or could we answer, “If you’re hungry, this is a good time to eat. We won’t have food again until the next meal.” Certainly “I want to wear my massive coat” can be a bad idea. But do we answer, “No you don’t, it’s a hundred degrees outside” or could we say, “I’ll bring a bag in case you change your mind” or “Let’s step outside and see how that feels. Ooh, I’m pretty warm already. You?”

To me, the latter examples do more to help kids understand the world or teach resiliency, because they’re not handed the answer. Bonus: We haven’t insinuated that they’re morons. Also, is the coat really that big a deal? (Make discipline easier on yourself | Zero to Five) Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Whatever the issue, we can set limits while still acknowledging what our kids want.

I agree that we may need to prompt kids to listen to their bodies. Especially when it comes to that darn potty! (I’ve been there: How to get your kids to listen to you | Zero to Five. Heck, I’m still there.) It’s more the way we phrase it, which so often assumes bad intentions. Or that of course they must want what we want. (Joke: “Sweater: What you wear when your mother is cold.”)

Maybe the drawing example was too subtle, but I was thinking of a child saying, “I’m horrible at drawing!!” and the adult overriding the child’s feeling with “No no noooo, that’s not true!” Instead we can simply acknowledge: “That didn’t turn out the way you wanted” and gently encourage trying again. This definitely takes practice. But it’s an empathetic response that is more likely to lead to trying again. (Why some kids try harder | Zero to Five)

Should children always get their way? I hope my post didn’t come off as saying that! A big part of our job as parents is, yes, to set important limits. I just think we parents could give more thoughtful consideration to what is truly important.

With an eye toward ways in which we may be, unintentionally, undermining our children’s strong sense of self.

Get Language of Listening: THE missing step in positive parenting




Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.





One thought on “How do parents deceive their children?



  1. I love this. I have a 20 month old son and feel like it’s a constant struggle to get people to see the difference between forcing him to do what they want, when they want, versus respecting that he’s a human with thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Any other recommendations for doing this with a younger toddler? And getting others to do the same?

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