Let's face it. Our kids are masters at withholding information regarding a situation. However, children learning to fib is just as important as them learning to tell the truth. Photo courtesy of Grady Reese/Corbis.
The ability to lie allows people to control the world around them. It establishes creditability, and it can negate punishment for wrongdoing. Some lies are “small,” some lies are “big” and some lies are justifiable if the falsehood increases the probability of promoting the greater good for one’s self or a group of people.
But universally, lying is considered a devious act that produces mistrust.
However, children learning to lie helps them acquire two essential cognitive skills such as the “theory of mind” or the ability to know what people do not know about them and “cognitive control” the attribute of managing when they state the actual truth instead of a lie in a given situation.
According to research conducted by Gail Heyman, a professor of child psychology at the University of California San Diego, kids typically learn how to deceive others between 3 and 4-years-old.
“It’s critical to remember that a child’s discovery of deception is not an endpoint,” Heyman said. “Rather, it’s the first step in their ‘journey’ of cognitive development. After this discovery, children typically learn when to deceive while sorting through a confusing morality of lying in every instance.”
As children mentally develop, they learn how to utilize different means of deception to achieve their goals, according to Heyman.
“Children are pretty good at turning a bad situation into a good situation,” she said. “This is due to the way kids shape and present the narrative. However, this ability can produce significant consequences for themselves.”
Continual negative approaches by parents to correct their toddler's dishonesty "helps the child lie even better," said Heyman. So, a more "firm, but fair" method of adjusting dishonest responses would bring about more positive results, she said.
Children lying in sophisticated ways is nothing new for Diana P. Farr, a mother of four middle-aged daughters and grandmother to four grandchildren.
According to Farr, she has heard “every” fib there is. But as a woman that has raised eight kids, she knows that it is essential to explain to children why lying isn’t always the best choice to make.
“Every child will accidentally break something in the house and make an excuse so that they will not get in trouble,” Farr said. “I’ve found that instead of punishing them outright, it’s better to let them know that it’s okay, to tell the truth and that honesty helps to build trust. And that’s the most important thing.”
Heyman also said that the etiquette of complete honesty can confuse kids considerably. That's why it is vital for parents to discuss with their children the circumstances when a lie must be told, she said.
“Parents need to recognize how difficult these situations can be for children to navigate,” Heyman said. “Kids often find it difficult to learn from their mistakes after being accused of lying. So, it’s best to inform them of their error by showing it in the context of relatable life experience, and they will begin to understand the ramifications.”
In addition to Professor Heyman’s academic and professional expertise, she is the co-author of the articles, Praising Young Children for Being Smart Promotes Cheating, and Generalized Trust Predicts Young Children’s Willingness to Delay Gratification.
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