Does your young child lie? Does it appall you? You’re not alone. And I’ll tell you something that will shock you: it’s completely normal and may even indicate that you have a smarty pants on your hands! Some research suggests that if your child is showing these skills as early as two, he may be showing early signs of high intelligence!
Okay, I’m going to get researchy for a second. Lying emerges in children around age 3 and is often the first sign that children are developing a theory of mind. Theory of mind is the ability to simulate in your own mind what others are thinking. Think of it as ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.’ Kids begin to learn this at a young age but they aren’t perfect at it, as you well know.
Take this example: You buy some new red nail polish. The nice, $9, OPI brand. Or China Glaze, whatever. It’s on the counter in your bathroom. When you go in there later, it’s all over the counter, down the cabinet, and running on the floor. You look at your daughter. It’s on her fingers, hands, and face.
“Sweetie, did you open mommy’s nail polish?” I know she did, obviously, because it’s all over her.
“No.” She was in the kitchen. She didn’t see me.
At this young age, kids can’t yet put together all the evidence: that even though mom didn’t see me get into the nail polish, she’ll know it was me because I’m covered in it.
What’s hard as a parent is realizing that our children aren’t lying to ‘be bad.’ They’re not trying to be malicious and untruthful- they are merely practicing this newfound skill. So while it’s frustrating and patience-trying, it’s completely normal for your child to test out his new ‘lying’ skills. And exhale- there’s no link between childhood lies and later big-time fibbing like cheating on taxes or cheating on spouses.
But we still want our kids to know the importance of honesty. So what can you, as a parent, do to help your child learn that lying isn’t okay? Here are a few ideas:
- Teach the difference between fantasy and reality. When sharing a book or watching a television show, talk to your child about why what he’s seeing isn’t real. In the same vein, recap actual experiences with your child (going to the zoo, the doctor, grandma’s)
- When your child lies, comment on the positive intent. Your child wasn’t intentionally trying to anger you. Instead of ‘Why would you get into my nail polish?! Do you have any idea how hard this is to clean up?!’ try, ‘I bet you really wanted pretty red nails like mommy, huh? You know you’re not allowed to paint your nails yourself (ß that part can be stern), so why don’t you let me help you?’
- Don’t set your child up to lie. For example, if you know your kiddo has not brushed her teeth as she’s hopping into bed, don’t ask knowingly ‘did you brush your teeth?’- she’s likely to tell you she has because she knows that’s what you want to hear. Instead, play dumb. Say, ‘Okay, let’s go brush your teeth!’ If she’s already done it, trust me, she’ll tell you!
- Praise the truth when your child does tell it. Even if it means your child has misbehaved, recognizing that your child has told you the truth will encourage him to do so again in the future.
Tell me about a time your child has lied. Were you furious? Did it make you laugh?