Whenever my toddler hurts himself, I offer to kiss it better. This works like magic - he immediately stops crying and carries on playing happily. Placebos are wonderful things.

Doing this makes me happier, it makes him happier, and also serves as a useful diagnostic tool - if he carries on crying I know he's actually hurt himself badly.

Teaching children that kisses can make things better is definitely lying to them, but this seems like a good place to make a principled exception. WDYT?

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I don't think I see a problem with this situation.  "Do you want me to kiss your injury?" is simply asking about their preferences, and makes no assertion about the healing powers of the kiss.  "Do you want me to kiss it better?" does make a bit of an assertion, but at least at this point, it's clear that it provides comfort to your son—it makes him feel better—so I think the phrasing is ok.

Also, there is research suggesting that saliva on wounds is in fact helpful:

Our results show that human saliva can stimulate oral and skin wound closure and an inflammatory response. Saliva is therefore a potential novel therapeutic for treating open skin wounds.

Licking wounds is useful elsewhere in the animal kingdom; see Wikipedia.  My guess for humans would be "it probably helps a bit—though, if Neosporin is available, I'd prefer the latter".  If it does help, then I think we'd expect baby animals who aren't able to lick the wounded area (or who just don't lick it for some reason) to be adapted to, upon getting injured, cry loudly until a parent comes by and licks their wounds / otherwise attends to them; and humans probably inherited the adaptation.

I'd say it's less likely (though possible, with the "inflammatory response"?) that it helps with bruises or other injuries that don't break the skin.  But it's also plausible that babies can't tell the difference between a wound that bleeds and one that doesn't, or that evolution didn't find it worthwhile programming an exception for the latter.

So I suspect that your son's crying followed by his "it's magically better now" response may be an evolved behavior.  (Even if saliva did nothing, the general "cry for help when you get hurt until someone tends to your wounds" reaction seems reasonable.)  In which case kissing his injury is speaking directly to that evolved part of him.

Avoid the Neosporin. Prolonged exposure to one of the active ingredients (neomycin) often causes an allergic reaction, i.e. inflammation indistinguishable from an infection. Then putting more on to treat the "infection" just makes it worse. The triple-action seems to be more marketing than science. Polysporin, plain bacitracin, or even just petroleum jelley (Vaseline) is probably a better choice. The moisturizer is helpful (because it prevents scab formation and scarring), but it's not clear that the antibacterials are helping much. There's also some concern that Neosporin may promote antibiotic-resistant bacteria, like MRSA.

I see, interesting.  I've tended to talk about Neosporin and Polysporin interchangeably, not knowing the difference and figuring they were similar; the thing I've been using is actually Polysporin. Looking into it... Wikipedia does say "In 2005–06, Neomycin was the fifth-most-prevalent allergen in patch test results (10.0%)".  Is the 10% the number of people with an allergic reaction?  (Would there be >10% with nonzero but subclinical reactions?)  Also, if there are bacteria that the Neosporin doesn't kill, then might it actually be good for the body to be conducting a heightened immune response?  Or would that interfere with wound healing in the common case?  Googling suggests the latter is indeed a problem. I also find that both bacitracin and neomycin have been named Allergen of the Year.  Also, Wikipedia on bacitracin says "In 2005–06, it was the sixth-most-prevalent allergen in patch tests (9.2%)."  Wow, that is kind of hilarious in the context of this debate.  The article also says "[bacitracin] is generally safe when used topically, but in rare cases may cause hypersensitivity, allergic or anaphylactic reactions, especially in patient[s] allergic to neomycin."  My impression of the immune system is that it's not too surprising for it to become highly prejudiced against anything new it encounters in open wounds... So is the one actually better than the other?  I do find more internet-people advocating for Polysporin on allergen grounds, and I can believe that putting more potential allergens into a wound is more likely to cause a reaction. I would agree that, in lots of cases (e.g. a paper cut while indoors), there's little need for antibacterials; I mostly think of the moisturizing and "covering the wound" benefits, which would indeed be served by plain petroleum jelly.  That said, if you have a tube of the stuff around, I think you might as well include the antibiotics unless you're allergic. Regarding antibiotic-resistant bacteria, how does overuse of N
I didn't realize bacitracin allergies were nearly as prevalent as neomycin. Still, better one allergen than three.

As an aside, it's usually sufficient to kiss my hand and then wave it vaguely in his direction.



The dishonesty isn't in "It'll be okay after I kiss it", it's in the idea that it was ever not okay in the first place. 

Think about what purpose the idea that kissing it makes it better serves to you, which leads you to use it. The kid won't accept "Aw, you're fine" and therefore you can't help him feel better with that take. However, if you pretend that he really is not okay, then he can believe that, and maybe he'll also believe you when you offer a solution. It allows you to side step the part where you have to convince the kid that he's wrong, and allows you to lead him to a correct conclusion that he's okay. Which is nice, since having your toddler hurt and in distress can be uncomfortable, and we'd often like to get out of that discomfort ourselves.

But that work is where all the cool stuff happens, and that's where you get to teach them the skill of reorienting to unpleasant sensations effectively. The alternative starts with orienting towards our own discomforts skillfully, and then modeling that for them as applied to their problem. 

So, like, what happens when your kid scrapes his knee and he cries about it, and he doesn't stop crying for five minutes. When you could have stopped it at two with a kiss. Is that okay, and something you feel comfortable playing with (assuming you see a reason to play with it), or is it something uncomfortable which you'd rather stop?

To the extent that it's the latter then you have you own little puzzle to sort out, and to the extent that it's the former then you have a new game to play with your toddler. When your own emotional take on the booboo and ensuing distress is "Ooh! An opportunity to play! How bad is this one!?", then it tends to come across and the kid can learn that little booboos and a little distress aren't the end of the world and can actually be a fun learning challenge in an interesting sort of way. You get to engage with the experience they're having without trying to minimize it, or to pretend to agree with it, and that gives them a lot more room to figure out if they're actually okay and what lessons (if any) they want to take from it. And you often get really cool experiences, like watching your kid reframe the problem from "I'm hurt and not okay" to "It was scary and I cried, but I'm okay!" and "Can we do it again!?".

In principle, this can result in more distress because there's more willingness to entertain distress, but in practice I haven't found it to be the case. There aren't really any times where I could offer a kiss to make it feel better, because in the cases where it'd work it never really becomes a problem in the first place. Sometimes my toddler will insist that she needs a bandaid to make it better, and I'll give her one even though she doesn't physically need one, but that's very much led by her and the nudges she gets from me are actually away from the idea that the bandaids are necessary.



I agree with others that it's not really lying.

But also, it doesn't matter whether you're lying to them. It's not like lying is some sin against God. The relevant thing here is, What impact are you concerned about?

It's not like you're deceiving your child about cause-and-effect. They hurt, you kiss to make the pain go away, and the pain often goes away. That's quite real.

Where exactly is the problem?

In my mind, if this is "a principled exception" to some rule, then your rule needs updating. It doesn't reflect reality. What you're doing with your kid here is obviously fine.

What impact are you concerned about?

You're giving up an opportunity to play with developing their capacity to orient to intensity!

It's not that kissing it better is not okay or something, but there's an opportunity for useful fun, and the rule of "be very suspicious of saying things that look false" can help point you in the direction to find it.

I have a principled stance against lying.  It's been several years since the last time I did something that I consider probably-lying; that thing was hastily answering "yes" to the mother of a friend when she asked whether I enjoyed the play her daughter was in (when the truth was "I enjoyed some parts of it, but overall it was kind of meh"); I then partly corrected myself, but then I think she asked, "Well, did you like it overall?" and I think I gave a strained "yes", when "Hmm, I would have to think about it" [it is a tough call whether I liked-mor... (read more)

It's not like lying is some sin against God.

It is exactly like that.

If God (the Christian one) does not exist, nothing can be a sin against God. If He does, it is.

Lying is always a sin against the mind, both your own and that of the person you're lying to.

If they think it is lying and have good reasons not to lie, they shouldn't do it. Also, if they are uncertain, they signal that uncertainty, and the kid might pick it up. It depends on the larger parenting strategy: I think you can talk with small kids about what powers you do or do not have and make it an explicit game to solve. 



I think it's something of a frame mistake to talk about lying when the other person is not physically capable of understanding the truth, and often is still learning the concepts he will use to assess truth in the future. If a child is incapable of understanding the physics of river currents, telling them "a monster will suck you under the water" is less a lie and more a translation. If a child says "I'm hot" when it's freezing and you suggest "I'm cold", are you gaslighting him or expanding his vocabulary?

"kiss it better" could be an aggressive lie, or it could be the most understandable way to convey to him that you acknowledge and care about his pain, without making it bigger than it is. It also empirically seems like it doesn't override his own sense of "no, this actually hurts", which is the most obvious potential cost.

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Teaching children that kisses can make things better is definitely lying to them

If your kiss makes him feel better, why do you consider it lying? It works as advertised. 

Placebos can still work even when the patient knows it's a placebo. The knowledge seems to operate at a different level. I don't think the lying part is actually necessary to get the benefits. When kissing makes it better, then most of the pain was emotional, not physical, and the effective treatment was to somehow comfort the child, but this can probably be done in a variety of ways.