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No Lie: Its Good When Kids Don’t Tell the Truth

child development, child psychology

No worries, Pinocchio, you're just hitting an undercelebrated milestone.

Kids … what a bunch of liars! Who do they think they’re fooling?

But like rolling over, walking and mastering long division, lying is a developmental milestone. It starts surprisingly young, around 2 years-old, and evolves over the next 10 years or so. Writing for Scholastic’s Parents blog, Frances Stott PhD explains the whys and hows and, above all, what lying is good for.

Stott writes that most kids start telling lies between the ages of 2 and 4. These first lies shows that the kid grasps the fact that her mind and thinking operates separately from her parents’, which is something they also learn when they start using “no.”

Children learn to lie from the adults around them — they see the fake smiles and the little white lies we all swear we don’t take part in but, in actuality, do. It’s part of being polite. Starting around 4 years-old, though, they begin using lies for many of the same reasons adults do: they want to avoid punishment, gain an advantage, change a likely outcome, or feel better about themselves.

At 4, unlike in the earlier ages, kids know the difference between the truth and a lie and they also know that lying is wrong. Studies with hidden video cameras and vulnerable, poorly wrapped gifts show this — you can read more about those in the Scholastic article.

Between 6 and 8, kids figure out that the content of a lie is false, but also the attitude or motive of a speaker can be in doubt, too. So they may act sad that they won’t see their grandmother when, in reality, they might not be.

By the age of 10 and 11, kids are super good at telling lies, very aware that lying is wrong and also able to understand that lying has consequences, either because of the tangled-web or because Mommy or Daddy would like the lying to stop.

Stott offers some tips on how to react when your child lies, but also this bit of wisdom to keep in your back pocket:

In the long run, the most effective solution is to try to discern what message the child is trying to convey with his lie. Occasionally, lying is a sign that a child needs more attention or, perhaps, stronger limits on daily activities. Longer-term strategies may be to create structured routines (for example, going to bed on time after a favorite read-aloud, or a limited amount of television time) to increase his sense of security within the family.

So when you’re honest-to-a-fault toddler one day dumps his cereal bowl right before your eyes and blames it on the dog, just roll with it. Correct and move on. As long as you’re modeling good behavior — you are modeling good behavior, aren’t you? — you’ll lower your risk of raising the next Bernie Madoff/James Frey/balloon boy father/insert favorite liar here.

Does it bother you that your kids lie? What do you do when you catch them in a good one?

Photo: jepoirrier via flickr

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