Should You Tell “White Lies” to Children

Should You Tell ‘White Lies’ to Children?

Rhonda RobinsonBy Rhonda Robinson6 Minutes

Once upon a time, the culture as a whole understood that children are not mini-adults. In reality, children are in a constant state of maturing, mentally as well as physically. Their minds work differently. They are often afraid. Too often, what they are afraid of is not the real dangers in life, and run blindly into the areas that are. The same child that screams over a ladybug will waltz right into a men’s restroom.

Most children consider an adult man with a nice smile and a cute dog as a perfectly good prospect for a friend, while the mere sight of a doctor’s office brings sheer terror. It’s up to us as parents to point out the real dangers. The problem is, the youngest, and most vulnerable can not comprehend the evil or consequences we are trying to protect them from.

Generations long before used to carry a handbag full of fables. These stories were passed down from generation to generation to teach, admonish, and warn children in a manner they can easily understand.

However, since the advent of television, and now the plethora of technology we encounter on a daily basis, has crippled our imagination and storytelling. In many ways, it has erased much of the wonder from the maturing process children once knew. They are visually assaulted with images they might not be ready to process—even with cartoons.

I don’t believe in lying to children. We don’t want to teach them to lie. My parents used to use what they called “white lies.” Still. That is a flat out lie.

As my children began to grow, I refused to lie to them, however, I did tell them stories, or color my words for age-appropriate understanding.

I created rules for safeguarding my children’s trust while coloring their world so they can grasp it as gently as possible.

Rule #1. Never lie to a child when they are fully capable of understanding the truth.

If they ask you a direct question, answer it to the best of your ability, within the range of their understanding. Once they are questioning, their need for understanding and truth outweighs their need for fantasy.

Rule #2. Never lie to make yourself look good in their eyes. Give them an opportunity to see that sometimes telling the truth comes at a personal cost.

Rule #3. Use concepts and stories that they can grasp now, but one day, as they mature they will automatically know not only the truth but why you told the story. The entire memory becomes a good one rather than something that must be perpetuated, or he is upset with the truth.

My best example is when four-year-old Liam needed to go for a sleep study. He was riddled with anxiety. Spending the night in a strange place, and a new bed, a room filled with strangers was bad enough. Then, when a couple of strange men came in and wanted to place wires all over his body. This was terrifying for him. There was no way explaining the “truth” to him would make it better. The truth was these men were going to attach electrodes all over your body, to measure your oxygen and sleep patterns so the doctor can decide if he needs to cut your tonsils out.

So instead, his mother explained, “Liam, this is how we will find out what superpowers you have. These nice people are going to hook you up to their machines and watch them all through the night. When you wake up we will find out what your superpowers are.”

Turns out, Liam’s superpowers are running really fast and the ability to talk to dogs. The experience was a good one. Everyone came out the next morning with the information they needed—including Liam.

The litmus test to find out whether what you are about to tell a child is a lie or an imaginative, age-appropriate explanation is simple. If one day you know you will have to come clean and explain your rationale for what you told him, you lied. Your credibility and trust are damaged.

If, on the other hand, one day the truth is automatically known as the memory is visited, the holding place of that imaginative story is no longer needed and maturity has filled the gap with understanding—and a smile.