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Telling children little white lies can come back to bite you in ways you would never expect

From getting the kids to finish their dinner to bribing them to be good, it seems there are lots of reasons parents come out with the odd porky, says Lisa Salmon

Many parents have told their child a white lie or two, usually with the best of intentions. Research suggests 45% of parents tell their children a white lie at least once a week and one-fifth (20%) tell them well-meaning untruths daily to satisfy their curious minds.

A lot of parents don't feel at all guilty about occasionally being less than truthful with their little ones - in fact, the survey by online card and gift retailer Moonpig.com found 58% of mums think answering their child's tricky questions by telling little white lies is a great part of being a parent.

So what porkies are parents telling their kids? Here are the 12 most common ones, according to Moonpig's survey...

1. Eating carrots will help you see in the dark (43% - although, to be fair, there is some truth to this, actually!)

2. Santa has a naughty list, so you have to be on your best behaviour (38%)

3. Yes, we are nearly there (38%)

4. If you don't go to sleep soon, the tooth fairy won't come (28%)

5. Santa is watching you at all times (28%)

6. If you watch TV all day, your eyes will swell up/go square (25%)

7. You won't like it (21%)

8. The ice cream van playing a tune means they've run out of ice cream (11%)

9. Cutting your hair makes it grow quicker (9%)

10. We can't play this game as the computer/iPad is broken (8%)

11. If you don't finish your dinner, Santa won't visit this year (7%)

12. If you eat any fruit seeds, the fruit will start growing in your body (7%)

Are white lies harmless?

Clinical psychologist Linda Blair, author of books including The Happy Child, says there's no one simple answer as to whether white lies are harmless or not.

"Each parent has to parent the way they think best, but my advice is you need to look at the intent of a lie. If the intent is to share and make some events more fun and exciting, for example Father Christmas or the Easter Bunny, then I don't see any harm in that.

"But if the intent is that you can't be bothered to tell your child the right answer to a question they've asked, then I don't think that's good.

"In the long run, they'll know less and they'll also not want to come to you when they want to learn something, and that's going to be terrible when they're teenagers and you really need them to communicate."

Blair believes that even with questions about Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny, if your child asks you if it's really true, parents should tell the truth.

However, there are thoughtful ways of doing it - for example, you may just ask the child. 'What do you think?'

"They need to know they can trust their parents," says Blair. "Your first aim is to educate your child as much as possible, to make sure they're as good a human being as they can possibly be when they go out into the wide world.

"The second aim is to make sure they know they can always come to you and you'll do your best to talk to them and to listen to them, and the third aim is for them to know they can trust you."

Blair also points out that care needs to be taken when parents tell a white lie - the one about fruit seeds growing inside children's bodies if they eat them, for example, could scare little ones and even be construed as bullying.

"A lot of people will say they were just teasing when they tell a white lie, but there's a very, very thin line between teasing and bullying, and you have to be awfully careful where you are on that," she explains.

"If you have the remotest doubt, then don't say it at all, because you might be too close to bullying. Bullying produces more bullies, and you don't want your child to be a bully."

Parents lie to stop questions

Parents don't just tell white lies to tease or for fun: 39% admit they sometimes tell little porkies to stop their children asking incessant questions.

But although some children's questions can be annoying, particularly if they're constantly repeated, parents might be well advised to appreciate being asked while it lasts. The survey suggests youngsters are increasingly turning to tech to find answers to their questions, rather than to mum or dad, with 71% of parents anticipating their children will use tech devices more and more to help find answers.

The top 10 most common questions kids ask:

1. Are we nearly there yet?

2. Will you read me a story?

3. Why do I have to go to bed?

4. How come they're allowed that and I'm not?

5. What's the time?

6. Why do I have to go to school?

7. Why can't I stay up as late as you do?

8. Can I play on the phone/tablet?

9. Why do I need to eat my vegetables?

10. Where do babies come from?

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