Is lying normal in children?
You leave your preschooler in the kitchen with a firm warning not to touch the cookie jar. You enter a few minutes later and find him with his hand stuffed inside the jar, cookie crumbs around his mouth. You ask in disbelief, “Did you eat a cookie even after I told you not to?” “No mum that bad dog has eaten the cookies”. Flabbergasted you look at the evidence smeared around his mouth and your heart sinks with worry, is your child growing up to be a liar?
Before you start admonishing your child or give out a punishment, consider why he might be lying. Experts say that lying is normal behaviour for young children and in fact part of their normal development. It signals a new milestone in their cognitive abilities. Po Bronson, co-author of Nurture Shock: New thinking about children states ninety six percent of all children lie while eighty percent of four years olds tell fibs once every two hours. By the age of six, almost all children lie on average once every hour.
Tania Trapolini a clinical psychologist at The Children’s Psychology Clinic in Sydney explains that a child who is going to lie must recognise the truth in their mind, imagine an alternate reality, and manipulate that information convincingly. In fact, lying is often considered a sign of intelligence, higher IQ and advanced social skills. Tania says that children around the ages of two and three will usually come up with random lies and are not skilled at hiding the evidence which might incriminate them. For example, you overhear your child telling another that it’s not their nap time when it really is or they tell you they’ve eaten their cereal and the bowl is still there full.
Older kids will lie because they’re afraid of disappointing you or being punished. It could even be because they are unable to do something – they might be struggling with science at school and may tell you they’ve not been given any homework. Try to find out why he or she is lying before taking away privileges.
How do you deal with the lying? The answer is to stop asking questions you already know the answer to. For example, if you know your child has eaten the cookies there is no point in asking them if they have actually done it. Instead say, “I know you ate the cookies even though I asked you not to” then involve him in cleaning up the crumbs.
Parents can also encourage their children to always tell the truth through statements like “I like it when you’re honest with me” and to promote honesty all the time not just when things go pear-shaped. Help them to relate a logical story by asking open ended questions and clarify the importance of being honest and trustworthy.
Thirdly, do not lie in front of your children even if they’re white lies which many adults consider harmless. Do not say on the phone “Oh I can’t make it, I’m not well” when you’re perfectly healthy. Children who are younger than ten cannot tell the difference between a white lie and a big lie, they’re constantly learning by observing your actions.
Tania advises parents to distinguish when their child is lying and when they might simply be pretending or be in a fantasy. She recommends refraining from labelling this behaviour as lying because it is important for a child’s development and is completely natural. So if your child tells you to pour some juice for her small sister (she’s an only child), encourage this by asking questions like what’s her name or what dress is she wearing?
What is the funniest lie your preschooler has told you? How do you deal when faced with a lie?
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