What I Learnt From The Lies Children Tell

Children lie for different reasons and depending on their age, they may not even be aware that they are lying. So, it's best to understand why your child is lying before you react.

By Patricia Sridhar

What I Learnt From The Lies Children Tell

My friend felt crushed. She’d just caught her 7-year-old son lying for the nth time. I advised her to brush it aside, he was probably scared of how she’d react, and hence the little white lie. But on my next visit to their home, the little chap was at it again. He was recounting an incident from school to us, where someone threw something from the 3rd floor of their school building. My friend was quick to catch it – kids below a certain class where not allowed on the 3rd floor in the first place! She rolled her eyes and I winked.

Later, I did some soul searching and digging. I thought back to all the times when I lied to my mom as a kid, about books I’d lost and marks I’d scored. I lied to shield myself from the certain tight slap or two I’d have gotten from my mother. But this little boy had no real reason to lie. And he was so convincing that, had my friend not pointed out, I would have thought he was telling the truth! It was apparent that he was lying without a motive, and just for the heck of it. Did this make him a pathological liar? Apparently not. 

"Very young kids don't know the difference between truth and fiction," says Michael Brody, M.D., a child psychiatrist in Potomac, Maryland. 

According to Brody, there’s nothing wrong with kids making up stories we know to be blatantly untrue. In fact, this habit can be indicative of good things in the offing. 

"Pre-schoolers with higher IQ scores are more likely to lie," says Angela Crossman, associate professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. 

According to Crossman, who has done a considerable amount of research on the subject, early lying proficiency may also be linked with good social skills in adolescence. Let’s look at the kind of lies children tell at different ages and why they do so. This will give us a better understanding of how to tackle childrens's lying behavior.

Toddlers

Danny and Sasha were twins. Their mom asked them who would like to be bathed first. Danny pointed to Sasha. When his mom asked him why, he said it’s because she played in the sand, and he didn’t. It was apparent that Danny was just trying to stall his bath. His mother could have told him not to lie, but instead she said, ‘OK, but Sasha looks as clean as you do.’ This sets the record straight with Danny without breaking his little heart and avoiding a showdown. 

“Don't get into a wrangle to get the child to admit that she was the one [lying]. If you make an angry accusation, you'll get a lie," says Elizabeth Berger, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids With Character.

Tweens

I remember playing ‘house’ when Reena and I were 10-year olds. We’d have our doll houses and toy kitchens laid out and we’d have conversations about our respective imaginary partners while cradling our dolls. Naresh and Rajesh were the imaginary partners’ names, though I can’t remember which name belonged to whose partner. I’m sure my mom, and elder siblings might have eavesdropped and laughed at our conversations about imaginary people. 

 "If a child seems happy and has realistic relationships with the imaginary people in her life, I would not be worried about his fantasizing. That's what children did before there was TV," Dr. Berger says.
Arundhati Swamy, Counsellor and Head Parent-Engagement Programmes, ParentCircle, adds “Children tend to explore their imagination a great deal, which is how they develop their thinking skills. However, the rising presence of technology means that children today spend more time passively absorbing entertainment and are dependent on external sources, like TV, to occupy themselves. This doesn’t give their mind an opportunity to grow, think, imagine and create."

Teens

My sister and brother were up to mischief one afternoon while my mom was trying to catch a nap. My sister fell and broke a potted plant in the process. When my disgruntled mom appeared half-crazy from a lost nap, ready to whack the one who broke the potted plant, my brother stepped up and said he’d broken the pot.

My brother’s ability to step in and take the rap in my sister’s place signals an important developmental step. "It actually shows a bit of social awareness and sensitivity," says Crossman. He was able to tell a white lie to benefit someone else or prevent them from getting hurt.

The solution

So long as it’s the occasional lie about a lost pencil, an uneaten lunch, or study time clocked, it’s fine for parents to wink at it. Parents need to worry only if the child lies chronically, as this could indicate bigger issues like stress and anxiousness, which need professional help. But before you go to a professional for help, make sure that you aren’t being lied to because of your own behaviour.

If you tend to lie, your child is likely to copy. So, don’t fib about your child’s age just to get him/her into school earlier. Don’t fib about incidents to your spouse or other family members. You child hears you and might be able to tell when you’re lying. If she catches you getting off with concocted stuff, she is likely to think it’s okay for her to lie too. To ensure your kid grow up to be an honest and good adult is by being an honest and good parent (and person) yourself.

Another way your behaviour can influence your child’s lies is through your reactions to your child. So, remain calm when your child is honest, even if she’s admitting is something bad. Don’t dole out severe punishments that are disproportionately harsh. Assure your child that you are glad she told you the truth despite how hard it might have been for her. People tend to lie in order to manage the behaviours and reactions of others, older children lie for the same reasons. So it's better to make sure you are not the reason for your child's lies, before you do something about it

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