Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Posted on Jan 29, 2013 by No Comments
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

“My child doesn’t lie.” Or does he?

Let’s look at when lying really starts. It’s easy to think that youngsters lie more than older children. Parents can rationalize this by saying that the 3 and 4 year olds don’t really know better, but by 5, 6, and 7. their child knows the difference between a lie and the truth and will actively not lie.

Wrong! Lying is kind of like a Southern rain storm. It can start with a pitter patter and then grow into a full out assault on your ability to navigate around the hard driving rain.

Have you read Nurture Shock? Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman break down lying for a young mind. Basically, for a child to lie, she has to simultaneously hold a number of realities in her mind:

A)  She will have to know the truth – the thing which she is NOT telling you.
B)  She will know that you won’t want to hear the thing which she is NOT telling you.
C)  She will have to create an alternate reality.
D)  She will create a reality (the lie) that she knows will please you.
E)  She will defend that lie as if it’s the absolute truth, making another lie.

On the one hand, you can see why lying gets a bad rap. It germinates, pollinates,  procreates until a greater force interrupts its devious ways.

On the other hand, lying is a mark of serious intelligence. Looking at lying in the best of light, for youngsters that is, you can understand that a highly creative, observant and adaptive mind is at work.

Look, there are many ways to talk to your kids about lying. Just Google it (or bing it!). But for the young child, a lot of that is hooey.

Young children approach lying just the way they don costumes, becoming pink princesses or knights, wielding swords to stab the bad guys. It’s evidence of their fertile imaginations at work.

The trick, for parents, is to navigate this minefield. It’s our duty to inspire our children to tell the truth, from an early age, without actually teaching them how to lie better.

Because, you know, we teach them to lie all the time. Urgh.

The thing is, children have a tight grasp on the black and whiteness of lies. They don’t see intent. They don’t see that some lies are actually OK. So, unfortunately, we, as adults who tell white lies ALL THE TIME, have been inadvertently teaching our children how to lie. Seriously. This part sucks to think about.

Know this: young children, more often than not, will lie to cover up something that they did that they know is wrong. They will lie to please you. Once you know what to look for, then you can spot the lie.

Take for example “Did you go to the potty?” Basically you laid the groundwork for a lie. But we all slip into this so when you find yourself faced with a “yes” and you know the answer is “no” because your child has her hands shoved between her legs and is doing the potty dance.

Next time, try “Let’s make sure it all came out!” and take her back to the potty yourself. A good rule of thumb is to anthropomorphize their world. Did they steal a candy from the grocery store?  “Did that candy jump in your pocket?” Then take it out and put it back. Don’t try parenting from across the room – get up and go with her.

See, lying isn’t black and white. So when you tackle the issue of lying with your child, try to remember that their understanding of truth and your understanding of truth are actually two different things.

To them, lying is creating.

Now I want to emphasize that I’m specifically talking about lying in children under 5. Lying is a the young child’s deodorant.

At first, they aren’t so stinky so they just need a touch of deodorant to cover things up. Then, as their bodies grow and change they need stronger deodorant and more of it. It’s like a deodorant addiction by the time they are 7, 8, and 9 if using it is a successful strategy to dealing with the unpleasantness of maturing.

I’m sure you’ve got your own story about lying! I know I do. I’m putting together a book and I’d love to include your story and how you handled it…do tell.

photo credit: familymwr

Posted in: Parenting

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