It’s easy to freak out if you catch your child in a lie. In a world where the raising of a child is already tough enough, worrying about your child’s delinquency is frightening. However, there have been many studies in the field of child psychology, especially on the subject of lying. As it turns out, lying is completely normal! Kids normally begin to lie as early as 2 and a half to 3 years of age. Kang Lee, a development psychologist at the University of Toronto, has been studying lying in children for 20 years, says:
“That’s very, very normal.” (Via Slate)
Usually, it’s to cover up doing something wrong. But you have to admire the full depth of lying in children. Lying requires what is called “executive function.” It requires the ability to control working memory, inhibitory control and planning capabilities all at once. They’re ignoring reality, building one of their own, and occupying it with a different concept entirely. That’s pretty impressive for a three-year-old.
In fact, all things considered, lying is a sign of healthy development. Kids are always looking for new strategies, things to help them survive and move forward. So as a result, it’s only common for them to try and push their boundaries.
Many studies suggest that they are displaying both important cognitive skills and a lack of cognitive skills at the same time. Their brain is developing and interacting with the world, trying to see how everything works and exploring their limits. So, before you freak out and go at them for lying, just remember that it’s their brain developing. On that note, however, you, of course, need to discourage lying, and it’s quite possible to do just that, but you don’t need to fear for their future just yet.
“When kids lie, it’s not a sign that they’re on the road to delinquency—it’s a sign that they are developing important psychological skills.” (Via Slate)
There were tests done in 1989 and 2002, to try and understand just how often kids lie, and the frequency with age. They took a bunch of kids and put them in a room with a box, one at a time. They told the kids that inside the box was a toy that they weren’t allowed to look at. They then left the child in the room but didn’t tell them that the mirror was a one-way mirror. The whole point of the test was to see if the kid would be honest about sneaking a look.
After leaving the room, the observers would watch until the kid lifted the top to peek inside. Alternatively, they would wait 5 minutes. Afterward, they would return to the room and ask the child, “Did you look at the toy?” They received very interesting results indeed. There were two groups of kids, one at 3 years of age, the others between 4 and 7. About 54% of the kids who looked in the box lied about it – as if trying to cover some transgression. The older group, between 4 and 7, however, over 75% of the kids lied about it!
Part of Growing Up
Another broad theory that lying shows is called “theory of mind.” That theory recognizes that people have different thoughts or feelings than you. Your 7-year-old may know that he stole the last cookie, but you do not. Therefore, he may lie to you to try and cover it up because he knows that you aren’t 100% sure. It can be frustrating to try and get your kids to listen to you. But one big reason why they misbehave is that they struggle with inhibitory control. Essentially, they don’t mean to misbehave sometimes, it just happens. Which, of course, is one aspect of a growing mind.
As we get older, we understand more about the world and ourselves, and we learn to keep ourselves in line. One more thing to understand about lying in kids is their environments. A lot of people tell tiny lies about everything. When kids begin to recognize this, they realize it’s happening. While lying is wrong, it’s done by everyone around them. It becomes a conscious interpretation of the world around them.
So yes, you should still talk to your kids about lying, but don’t fear that you may ruin their lives. They’re just kids; it’s a part of growing up!
Speak with your kids on honesty and being truthful. Deal with lying separately from other transgressions, not just part of the same offense. Make sure they understand honesty and politeness. Things may get a bit complicated, but just teach your child that lying is wrong while keeping in mind that it is also normal!