All Children Lie, But Why?

All Children Lie, But Why?

“Honest, Mom, I didn’t touch it,” says six-year-old Jillian.

“I washed my hands,” says four-year-old Leo, who just happens to have his hands conveniently behind his back.

“My daddy is a rich man who lives in California,” proclaims David, a nine-year-old who actually doesn’t know anything about his father.

“My mother is going to buy me a new car when I’m a senior,” says 14-year-old Clarice. Her mother is barely scraping by as a single mom and she’s never promised to buy Clarice a new car.

All of these children were lying, but they are not unusual young people. The fact is that all kids lie at one time or another. Sometimes the lie is a simple fib, like Jillian’s, and sometimes it can be a whopper of a lie – like Clarice’s. However, whether it’s a white lie or a great big lie that could have negative consequences for others, all children and teens bend the truth at times. But parents worry when their child tells a lie.

They worry about the future: Will be tell bigger lies in the future? Or they worry about the mental health implications of lies: Does this mean she doesn’t know the difference between the truth and fantasy? And they worry about what a lie might say about their future employability or about their ability to carry on a relationship. After all, relationships – in or out of work — usually depend on trustworthiness.

Why do children lie? The reasons why they tell lies varies according to their stage of development.

Preschoolers have very active imaginations and their ability to differentiate between the truth and fiction isn’t quite where it will be in a few years. Three and four-year-olds tell lots of untruths, but often their lies are related to confusion over what is a wish or fantasy and what is true. Since they are still learning about the differences, you can help that learning process by helping them see the difference. With a preschooler, you can acknowledge the wish or fantasy by saying, “I’ll bet you wish that was true” Or, “Sometimes you might have ideas that you think are true.”

Elementary school-aged children often lie or at least embellish the truth in order to avoid punishment or embarrassment. At this age, it’s better to confront the situation and impress on your child the reason for honesty. In addition, they need to hear how they can correct their behavior.

For example, you could say, “I need you to pay attention when I tell you to always be honest. I prefer that you tell me the truth when you didn’t finish your school work rather than lie to me about it. If you tell me the truth, then I can help you. I can’t help you with your schoolwork if you told me it was finished when it wasn’t.”

Teenagers on the other hand, will lie to enhance their self-esteem, protect their privacy, or avoid the consequences of their testing the limits. With adolescents, it’s often better to cut to the chase and not discuss the lying directly. That is, if your teen went to a friend’s house when she told you she was going to the library to study, you can address that issue directly.

“I know you like to be with your friends and usually I give you permission to go and see your friends. However, I also need to know where you are and what you’re doing. In the future, if you want to do something that you don’t think I will let you do, I still expect you to ask my permission. Then, we can discuss it and we have a chance of working out a compromise. You don’t give us that chance if you lie about what you’re going to do.”

Of course, we always want our children to be truthful, but the truth is that even the most honest child may tell a lie at some times. Depending on the age and developmental stage of your child, you can choose how best to handle it.

If Your Young Child Lies, Will He Become a Pathological Liar?

If Your Young Child Lies, Will He Become a Pathological Liar?

 When three-year-old Kelsey’s mother asked her why there was juice on the floor, Kelsey said, “I don’t know.”

Four-year-old Murray was asked by his dad if he had been using the hammer and if he knew where it was. “I wasn’t using it,” Murray replied.

Jenny, age five, told her mother she didn’t know who broke the glass that was found in the trash container under the kitchen sink. “Did you break it?” her mother asked. “No,” Jenny said.

Each of these children told an untruth. But child psychologists who study the development of children say that all children are like Kelsey, Murray, and Jenny. That is, all children lie.

Does this mean that all children are liars or that they will turn into pathological liars?

Certainly not. In fact, developmental psychologists say that as children grow older their lying is often a cognitive signal that children understand what others are thinking.

However, kids first begin lying around age three. Their ability to deliberately tell a lie is a result of their increased language development and greater understanding of their parent’s rules, along with better understanding of the consequences for breaking those rules.

So, when Kelsey says she doesn’t know how the orange juice got spilled on the floor, she is lying in order to escape censure or punishment for spilling juice – an offense she knows will bring disapproval and possibly punishment. But at this age, Kelsey is not aware of the morality of the situation, except in a broad sense that she knows that both spilling juice and lying are both wrong. However, in her eyes, it might be better to avoid trouble and the lie is worth it.

It’s also during the later toddler stages that children enjoy exploring their newly discovered mental playground. That is, just as they get a kick out of exploring various spaces at home or the playground equipment at the park, they also enjoy using their mental abilities and the language that goes with those abilities.

For example, 30-month-old Nick when asked how old he is by his grandmother says he is three. Or, when this same grandmother asks him his dog’s name, he says “George” (even though he knows very well his dog is named Ike). It’s fun for children of this age to see what will happen when they change things or play around with words. These are lies, of course, but no one takes them seriously.

Parents and other caregivers are more likely to take a young child’s lies more seriously if they seem to be deliberate efforts to avoid accepting responsibility.

The lies and mistruths uttered by young children are complicated by their parents’ moral guidance. If you are a typical parent, you tell your child that lying is wrong and she should always tell the truth. However, when your child becomes four, they will catch you in lies.

For example, Murray heard his mother tell a friend that she loved the sweater the friend had given her as a gift. But moments before this, Murray heard his mother complain that the sweater was the wrong color for her and the sleeves didn’t hang right.

When Murray told his mother she lied, his mother said that she didn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings. “It was a white lie,” his mother told him. “I told her I loved it because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”

While this may be confusing to toddlers, by the time a child is four or four-and-a-half, he can see that there are “good lies,” the so-called little white lies, and bad lies, lies that are just meant to deceive and are not related to saving anyone else’s feelings.

If you can keep the developmental aspect of lying in perspective, you are less likely to be alarmed when your child lies. Few children will grow up to be pathological liars. However, if your child is lying too often after age four and their lies are to avoid punishment, then you should make sure that your expectations for their behavior are not too exacting or that your punishment for misbehaviors is not too punitive or harsh.