The problem of telling little white lies in front of your child

I’m busy that day.

I already donated to your organization.

The meal was delicious.

Thank you. I love it.

Many of us tell these little white lies without a thought believing these “harmless” fibs spare feelings. We say these things to make our lives easier and to avoid conflict.

_hurt-feelings-clipart-hurt-feelings-clipart_1152-648We tell them to avoid hurting someone’s feelings (I love this gift.) as well as excuse our own behavior (Sorry, I’m late. Traffic was terrible.) And many adults don’t even consider these little white lies to be lies at all. But they are. And how are young kids to understand the difference?

How do they differentiate a “fib” to grandma about liking a present and a lie to their parents about breaking a dish? In both instances they do not want to hurt someone’s feeling or have someone mad at them.

And research suggests that when kids hear adults lying, they are more likely to do it themselves. A study from the University of California found that 5 to 7 year olds who were told a lie by an adult were more likely to cheat and then lie about it afterward.

Research also shows that kids lie more as they get older. When you have a toddler, they are very honest (sometimes embarrassingly so). Preschools often lie to avoid getting in trouble. (I didn’t do it.) By the time they are 5, 72% of kids would tell a white lie. It is up to 80% for 8 year olds and up to 84% for 11 year olds.

We tell kids we want them to be honest but then they see us lying or we encourage them to lie to spare someone’s feelings, and they get confused on which one we want. They learn that honesty creates conflict while lying is an easy way to avoid that conflict.

So can you teach your kids to be kind and honest? I think you can. Much as we look at the drawing our kids bring us and not tell them it is horrible but point out something we like, we can teach our kids to do the same. So instead of saying they don’t like the sweater Grandma bought them, they can point out something positive (It is a pretty color, or it is so soft.)

The truth is this is not easy either and can still lead to conflict. Instead of the white lie, “Traffic was terrible,” you would have to admit you left late or misgauged your timing. And if you tell your friend that you don’t want to meet on Friday night (instead of telling them your busy) and suggest another date, you still risk the chance of hurting their feelings. But the truthfulness of your statement won’t be lost on your child. Instead of teaching them to lie, you will be teaching them to be honest. And that is after all what we want, isn’t it?