By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Many years ago when I was about 12 years old, I had a cousin who had a baby girl. I asked my parents about the father. They told me he lived in Mexico. I had no reason to ask any further questions.

About 45 years later, I was talking to my cousin’s daughter. She told me that she had gone to visit her father. I asked her if she had gone to Mexico. She told me no; her father lived in New York.

I have no idea why my parents told me such a tall tale. However, I spent most of my life believing it before I found out the truth. It’s strange how parents embellish things for young children.

I was reminded of that story a few weeks ago. There was an item on the news about Joe Biden claiming that his uncle was eaten by cannibals. He was taken to task for what sounded like a preposterous story.

However, the pediatrician in me started to wonder. Did he have first hand knowledge of the story? I did some research. He uncle died when he was 18 months of age. He clearly knew nothing about it at that time.

When he got older, he likely heard the story from his parents. They may very well have embellished what they said to him. Just like me, he had no reason to suspect that the story was not entirely accurate.

Parents have a tendency to tell children what they want the children to hear. Perhaps they want the child to think that an uncle was a war hero. Perhaps they want the child to think that a cousin met a man in Mexico.

What they do not realize is that children believe what their parents tell them. They take them at their word.

As parents we do have a responsibility to protect our children. That means that we do not necessarily want them to hear things that upset them.

This often happens when a relative dies. It is a final event. However, many parents leave a child with the perception that the individual has gone away. The child figures it is just a trip. They await the return of the relative.

The moral of the story is that parents need to think before they speak. Telling a child a falsehood may have unexpected consequences. It is kind of like when you tell one lie, you have to make up others to support that. We need to pay more attention to situations like these when they involve our innocent children.