Dr Richard C Woolfson
You spend a great deal of time encouraging your child to be honest and truthful, to admit to any wrongdoings and to answer candidly when asked a question.
At least that’s what you teach her until your favourite aunt asks if you like that ugly blouse she bought for your birthday. In order to protect her feelings, you tell a “white lie” about how much you like it and your child watches, totally confused by your double standards!
At such moments, you wish you had taught her that there needs to be subtlety and sensitivity along with honesty.
I didn’t want to hurt you
Once the topic of “white lies” has been raised, explain that sometimes a small lie can be justified when it is designed to protect another person from hurt.
Of course your child may then use this as justification for all her own lies in the future, claiming each time that “it’s only a white lie, mum.” That’ss why you need to give lots of examples, illustrating when a white lie might be acceptable and also when it is not.
Generally, white lies are used only when making a compliment or a thank-you that is insincere, while ordinary lies are typically used to conceal discovery.
Emphasise this to your child, adding that white lies should be used only rarely and that at all other times she should tell the truth without any distortion at all. She’s old enough to begin to understand what you are saying to her.
Others have feelings too
Explaining to your child about “white lies” also involves teaching the difference between honesty and privacy, between truthfulness and sensitivity. However, as many adults have difficulty making this distinction, don’t be surprised if your child struggles with this one too.
Here are some other suggestions for guiding her through this potential minefield:
- Increase her sensitivity Ask your child to think of anything at all about herself that sometimes annoys her. She might say that her haircut irritates her occasionally or she feels sad that she can’t draw as well as her best friend.Then ask her to imagine standing in a crowd of other children her own age while someone makes that negative comment to her face. The embarrassment or inadequacy she feels is what others would feel about such open and honest remarks. Telling a white lie here would avoid that sort of distress.
- Pause and ponder Suggest that before she comments on someone else’s looks or clothes, she should she think about how her words would affect him.Encourage her to guess what the other person would feel. If your child has any doubts and thinks her comment may upset the other person, she should remain silent or say something positive in the form of a white lie.
- Be patient It has taken you years to learn the finer social graces, to know when to say something and when to keep your thoughts to yourself. Even now there are probably times when you put your foot in your mouth. Don’t expect your growing child to achieve this same skill overnight. Be prepared to discuss each individual incident with her, each time explaining why her remark was unwittingly hurtful and why a “white lie” might have been better. Her understanding will gradually increase with time and experience.