Chapter Four: Why Kids Lie
This post is part of a book review series of NutureShock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
Lately, I’ve been suspecting that Nora has figured out how to lie. She’s right at the age where kids begin to experiment with lying.
Lately, I’ll ask her if she’s wiped herself after going potty and she’ll hesitate and then say she did in an unflinching manner. The authors of NutureShock tell me, my chances of truly knowing when Nora lies are almost nil. And listen to this:
Parents often fail to address early childhood lying, since the lying is almost innocent — their child’s too young to know what lies are, or that lying’s wrong. When their child gets older and learns those distinctions, the parents believe, the lying will stop. This is dead wrong, according to Dr. Talwar. The better a young child can distinguish a lie from the truth, the more likely she is to lie given the chance.
It gets even hairier. All kids lie. Most parents expect kids to lie to cover for something they should not have done. So, the cover-up lie is almost never addressed. “The parent censures the original transgression, but not the failed cover-up. From the kid’s point of view, his attempted lie didn’t cost him extra.”
Also, a kid’s definition of a lie is more stringent than an adult’s. Kids think just getting something wrong is a lie. If incorrect information comes out of your mouth, you lied. So parents make a mistake, a kid feels lied to and therefore thinks his parent thinks it’s okay to lie.
And lying takes sophisticated thinking, it’s a develomental milestone. A child’s lying improves as they get older.
So what are we to do?
Well, let’s think about this. A child is lying to avoid punishment. Punishment is a symbol of a parent’s displeasure. Lying is really a way of maintaining a relationship. You want the candy, so you steal it, but you don’t want to upset your mom, so you lie.
The book outlines a fascinating study where children are read two fables about lying just before being asked a question where a lie is a likely response:
One of the stories read aloud is The Boy Who Cried Wolf — the version in which both the boy and the sheep get eaten because of his repeated lies. Alternatively, they read the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree, in which young George confesses to his father that he chopped down the prized tree with his new hatchet. The story end with his father’s reply: “George, I’m glad that you cut down that cherry tree after all. Hearing you tell the truth is better than if I had a thousand cherry trees.
It’s the second story that reduces lying, by a wide margin. To prevent lying, your child needs a reminder that the truth will please you. The threat of punishment only serves to make better liars.
Bottom line, don’t set your child up to lie to you, and if you suspect them of lying, make sure they know the truth will set them free.