Do Children Lie?

Most parents want to believe that their children don’t lie and many say that children can’t lie because they don’t know how to yet. However, from reading NurtureShock, I found it amazing that kids “do” lie and parents don’t even know when their kids are lying. On a test for the parents, they only guessed right 1/2 the time their kids were lying to them. That’s a mere toss of a coin in probability. Some interesting points I got from the book was:

  1. In a peeking game, only 1/3 of the three year old toddlers will peek and cheat at a game but most of them will not lie about the fact that they peeked. Over 80% of four year olds will also peak but over 80% of the four year olds will lie about peeking.
  2. Kids will experiment with lying by their fourth birthdays.
  3. Those kids with older siblings will learn to lie slightly earlier than typical four year olds.
  4. The kids who knows how to differentiate lie from the truth will tend to lie more.
  5. Parents think kids grow “out” of lies when in fact they grow into it.
  6. 4 year olds lie every two hours and 6 year olds lie every hour.
  7. Most kids lie because they did something wrong and want to cover it up.
  8. Less than 1% of the parents utilize the chance when kids are caught lying to talk to them about not lying or to teach them a lesson. I thought this was pretty amazing.

One thing he did mention in the book is that kids sometimes cannot differentiate between mistakes or lies from the parents and they consider that any wrong information is a lie. If you promised your kid that you’d take him to Disneyland but a hurricane comes and the flight gets cancelled, he’ll think you lied to him.

Another interesting fact is that kids who lie actually do better academically later on because the earlier they lie, the earlier they can differentiate truth from lies which involves intellectual abilities. This really is a catch 22 for me. Now that I know that my little one may lie by the age of 2-3, should I be happy that she’s smart or be disturbed that the innocence I once thought all babies had was demolished in my mind?

The book’s research goes further that kids start to learn more about lying as they get older. How lies can protect you from punishment or earn you friends or status. Many kids grow out of lies to help them with these aspects but if they are still lying strong at age 7, they are hooked! About 1/3 of the kids get hooked even after 7 years of age. That was a crazy statistic. This means at 1 in 3 children will continue to lie after age 7 just to protect themselves. To me, it sounds like that child is mentally disturbed and if it were me, I would watch very closely from age 3 to try to change that situation by teaching them how lies do not solve the situation and how people will always find out you lied.

I think it’s important to talk about these topics with children. Many parents think that their child is too young to understand or too innocent. The truth is, just because they don’t talk as smoothly or eloquently as an adult or use hard vocabularies, it doesn’t mean they cannot take the truth or a serious conversation.

I often see parents who treat their children like adults have children who behave better and are more understanding and know how to take care of themselves and others because they feel they are already responsible and grown up to understand the differences. As with the parents who still baby talk their toddlers… well… still have babies in their hands that throw more tantrums or speak words that don’t make sense, don’t feed themselves, and learn potty training a lot later.

The author did give a recommendation. They found that if you say “I want to ask you something but will you PROMISE to tell the truth?” then that cuts down the lies by 25%. Pretty amazing right? They also tried telling the story of George Washington with cutting down the cherry tree and after the story, it cut down lying in boys by 75% and girls by 50%!!! So it’s incredibly important to educate your children about not lying. However, when they heard the boy who cried wolf story, kids ended up lying more. Why? Because they already anticipated for the boy to be punished when lying. It wasn’t news to them.

This tells me that if you threaten a child to not lie, it probably won’t work because they already anticipated what will happen and probably came to peace with it already. However, if you show them how happy you would be by telling the truth, most of them want to achieve that higher goal of making you happy so the book suggests that you tell your kids how happy you’d be if they told you the truth.

Although my baby is still in utero, I find this all very fascinating.

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