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Is there any harm in a little white lie?

At some point on your parenting journey you might have to face the unnerving reality that your child has lied about something or has lied to someone.

When a child lies, it is a moral dilemma for many parents. They are perplexed trying to understand why their child would lie, and reconsidering how they might raise children to tell the truth when they are not around or do not have any control over the child’s expression.

Most children stretch the truth at times. Some children lie to get a register of how a parent will react when they find out. For some children, lying may get them noticed and gain attention.

Some children tell lies to make things sound more exciting than they are, embellishing the stories about their experiences to fit in.

Research states that “telling white lies is a common social phenomenon that helps us to fit in with our peers”.

Lying, it is said, appears to be the way a child learns to fit in and how they discover what happens when they are untruthful.

Society however seems to be more focused on children fitting in, than it does about developing what is best for them according to them.

Adults who insist a child be polite at the detriment of how they feel, means we are training children to apologise when they don’t mean it. In effect we are teaching them to lie about their feelings because we expect them to be dutiful. If we sanction some lies as harmless or call them little white lies in order to maintain social harmony and not to upset others, we are in fact encouraging lying.

Even little white lies create potential imbalances in children that impact on their vital need to speak truthfully. Children can repress or deny emotions such as guilt and shame when they know they have lied and not spoken their truth.

Telling the truth is largely shunned when we say “don’t ask that lady why she has no hair. It’s rude!” when a child naturally expresses curiosity about a person (they see) without hair, for example.

Adults often persuade children to behave, or coerce them to keep quiet over speaking what is true for them.

The ability for a child to express themselves often depends on how well the child perceives their expression will be received. How much will what I say even matter? There are many reasons adults may deflect or close down to hearing what a child expresses.

Children who are free to express their truth and honesty at an early age are more likely to continue to express what is going on for them later in life. In fact, when a child feels that they can express what they are feeling and that it will be acknowledged, they are able to speak up about injustices. Sometimes we are too busy, or feel we have too much going on in our own lives, to offer the space for the child to honestly express themselves and we often miss vital communications.

If your child has lied, they are proclaiming ‘hear me’.

Here are some important points to remember:

· Helping children to value expressing their true feelings requires we express what we mean and do not tell untruths to them about how we feel.

· The more consistent parents are with speaking their truth, and being honest in the kindest way, the more children feel they can do the same.

· It is difficult to hold the space and hear your child express their feelings if you feel obligated to make sure they are compliant and only say those things other people approve of, or will accept.

The Need to Speak is one of the seven foundational needs in the Foundational Needs Model of Dr Maxine Thérèse.

For more discussion on this topic, check out her book The Push for a Child Philosophy; What Children Really Need You to Know.

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