My entire life I’ve been told to tell the truth. The noble premise imparting “the truth shall set you free” forever ingrained in my mind. The memorable tale of George Washington admitting his complete guilt in the cherry tree massacre resulting in his personal transformational epiphany that truth holds more power than any lie. All wonderful deeply profound concepts I treasured. Then I had children. As they’ve grown more aware of the world and their surroundings, the use of the “little white lie” has gained prominence. That’s right folks, I lie to my kids. And I do it because I love them.
As a parent, you’re entrusted with the safety and well being of your children. With young kids, you are the primary source of information. The need to protect them at many times outweighs the necessity for truth. From terrorism to parents being caught in an intimate moment, kids sometimes need an alternative version to events that are transpiring before them. My 4 year old son’s latest obsession is the concept of dying. He’s aware of what dying means and yet he can’t comprehend fully why living things need to die. When a beloved family pet passed away last year my wife and I had to tread lightly on the subject until we felt he was ready to deal with a tragic loss. It’s amazing to what lengths a parent will go to shield a child from emotional pain.
On the other hand, the moral implication of lying to one’s children certainly becomes problematic if used too often as a crutch to control behavior. No doubt a slippery slope looms large for those who continue down the path of misinformation for convenience’s sake. Also, young kids really perceive more than we give them credit at times. Even at a tender age, they can discern between facial expressions versus the spoken word. In other words, unless you have a stellar poker face, they’ll know you’re lying. You risk eroding trust over time. Hence, the need for a balanced approach.
Like fatherhood, the following list is an evolving work in progress on major exceptions to telling the truth to young children:
- Loss of Life/ Death of Pets
This seems to be fairly common place from generation to generation and there’s a reason for it. Death’s too huge a subject for young children to wrap their heads around. Better to ease them into the discussion then bombard them with such an intricate matter.
- Intimacy between Parents
What parents haven’t been caught engaged in some form of intimacy only to have a child waltz in unannounced. Quick thinking usually saves the day to explain to a child what they just witnessed. Closing the door to prevent unannounced visitors isn’t always an option for parents. Perhaps setting up windows of opportunity when the kids will be asleep, out, etc. might be best. Not ideal for spontaneity but that’s the price one pays when children are in the mix.
- Catastrophic Events
Kids need to know you’ll always keep them safe. Terrorism obviously does not conform to the notion of complete safety. Neither do natural disasters. Yet assuring children that you’ll protect them from these larger than life events can help minimize difficult issues that adults struggle to comprehend.
What exceptions do you make for telling the truth to your children? Should there be exceptions?