By Marcia Hall
“It’s just a little white lie.” Many parents say or think this all of the time. Usually these white lies come in the form of stories that are told to protect their child in some way from a painful truth they might have difficultly fully comprehending. But is it really “just” a little white lie? Children have an uncanny ability to see though and understand more in this life than parents usually realize. With every small falsehood there can be a very harmful down side.
- It will cause the parent to tell more lies to keep the story going. The saying goes, “what a web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Each tiny lie may need additional lies to keep the painful truth from your child until you find yourself in a web of dishonesty that is very hard to get out of without causing more pain than you were first trying to protect your child from. Parents who teach their child that honesty is always the best policy should be modeling it to her as well.
- Eventually she will find out the truth and discover that not only was the truth kept from her, but there was deception involved. Whether the truth comes out because the lies became too great or because she has simply gotten older and discovered the truth on her own, her relationship with you will be damaged. She will feel pain and disconnection from you. Though most pain and disconnection can eventually be repaired, it can take years to rebuild.
- It teaches the child that little lies are ok. This belief will eventually lead to the belief that bigger lies are also ok, until all truth is negotiable. When a child eventually discovers that mom and dad are frequently telling her small untruths here and there, she will learn to do the same. At first these lies will start out small, and may even seem “cute” to her parents. Unfortunately, soon these lies will begin to snowball, getting bigger and bigger. Eventually she will be lying about everything and believing she is doing no different than her parents.
- The truth may help a child learn to deal with difficult situations early in life. As a child grows, she will need to learn to address and heal from difficult and heart wrenching situations. When parents attempt to protect their child from these situations by lying, it robs them of an amazing growth opportunity. Children will only build up resilience though support during painful experiences. Instead of attempting to keep children in a bubble where nothing bad happens and everything is good, parents should be willing to share difficult and painful stories in a positive and reassuring way, especially when she is young. In general, as a child gets older, she will go to her parents less and less for the reassurance she needs. So when painful events happen, an older child will be less likely to seek the support she needs, whereas a young child will run right to mom or dad for comfort. When parents start sharing sad and disappointing events with their child at an early age and offer the reassurance she needs during those times, she will be more likely to continue to come to them for encouragement as she gets older.
Certainly there are times when a child is very young that certain information can be harmful to her. Details about horrific events or deaths of loved ones can cause some trauma in your child. Parents need to use their best judgment regarding what their child can and cannot handle. However, parents should avoid keeping details from her just because they don’t want to have to deal with the pain she might feel from the news. With each challenging event that parents take head on, offering the encouragement their child needs will help her grow emotionally stronger. Then, when the most difficult realities of life hit her, she will be prepared to face them.