COMMENTARY: The Blue Stone and the White Lie

This story is about a truth-versus-caring ethical dilemma I once had. I think I did the right thing but I keep wondering if there was a better way.

I was putting my two-year-old to bed when Abrielle, who was four, came screaming down the hall in a panic. Samara, the five-and-a-half-year-old, was right behind her equally terrified. “I swallowed a stone. I don’t want to die,” Abrielle cried in terror. Samara said, “I don’t want Abie to die. I love her so much.” I determined that nothing was obstructing her throat and she was breathing normally. “It’s okay sweetheart, you’re not going to die,” I said trying to soothe her. She thought I didn’t understand. “But I swallowed a stone!” Obviously, someone planted the death image to discourage putting things in her mouth. I soon concluded she swallowed a small polished stone — “a blue one” she kept emphasizing as if it were rat poison. She was so scared. I told her the stone would come out in the morning when she went “poo poo.” She ran to the toilet, “I want it out now!” She was pushing so hard it looked like a blood vessel would burst.

The truth wasn’t working. So I lied. I gave her a spoonful of maple syrup saying it would melt the stone just like an ice cube melts in her hand. “Will it be gone?” she said. “Absolutely,” I replied. She announced triumphantly: “Daddy melted the stone. I’m not going to die.” Moments later, the world order was restored. She was in good spirits lecturing the two-year-old not to put things in her mouth. I hoped she didn’t tell other kids about the maple syrup remedy. But my biggest concern was: when she finds out the truth, will she still trust me?

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 10

  1. She will still trust you if she looked back and understood why you did it out of your love for her peace of mind at that moment. The understanding will not make that lie transform to truth ever. She will appreciate the dilemma of a parent when she becomes one and is faced with scenarios similar to the one she presented to you in her childhood. Your current feeling is a measure of your truth ‘meter’ which must remain sensitive.

  2. Cute story. I think she will still trust you. However, I too struggle with these sort of “white lies” with our 6 year old twin boys.

    For instance, the tooth fairy gives our kids books and Mommy helps to pick out the books for the tooth fairy, but should I just give them a book and say it’s from me and there is no tooth fairy? I don’t know.

    I struggle with this same thing with Santa Claus. I told my boys that their Papa, is Santa Claus, as he dresses up like Santa for Christmas, and we gave him their Dear Santa list and he gets them the gifts. I tell them that St. Nicholas was the first Santa Claus and his story and how he gave gifts to children to remind them of the gift God to us at Christmas. I remember how upset I was and how I felt like I couldn’t ever trust my parents again because they lied about Santa Claus to me (didn’t get so upset about the tooth fairy lie).

    What are your thoughts?

  3. Lying is wrong. You could say, “People say the tooth fairy will come.” When your wife asks if you like her dress, and you lie and say, “Yes.” She might buy more like it. In the long run she won’t know what you like or don’t like, So she won’t know how to please you even if she wanted to. You could just grow further apart.

  4. Lying is deceiving someone for an ill purpose to gain an advantage.

    As Michael has said numerous times, he is not a Moral Absolutist. It is ok for undercover agents to hide their identity, for spies in WWII to lie to the Nazi’s.

    Michael helped his daughter avert a crisis, and made her feel better. Wasn’t that his job at the time?

  5. There will always be times with children with the truth will not always work because their emotions are just too strong. This situation was one of them. You dealt with the emotions and gave her peace of mind. I know that it is properly too late now but the ideal approach would have been wait a day or more after the stone had time to pass and then tell her that you have told her a fib to reassure her because she was not in danger but she would not believe you without the lie. She might have gotten mad with you because of the fib but it would also teach her that she should have trusted you in the first place about the danger.

  6. Fun to imagine her relief, and her forerver memory of who saved her not just from any stone but ‘THE BLUE STONE’.

  7. It will be ok, but will the stone come out? I would be more worried about the stone passing… At some point she will need to know that maple syrup does not melt swallowed items (or will need to hear exactly what she should do if she or someone she knows swallows an inedible item!) Kids have a tendency to “fix things” following parent’s example, and if she tried to fix a similar incident with maple syrup it could end badly. She will trust you until she’s a teenager, then she’ll become skeptical. But when she really needs help, she’ll remember that you are the one who keeps her safe in whatever way you can, no matter what (even if you have to lie.)

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