The Edmond Sun

Features

May 17, 2014

Your child is a natural-born liar

COLD SPRING, N.Y. — A few weeks ago, as part of his normal evening ritual, my almost 3-year-old son used the potty, brushed his teeth and climbed into bed. As we were saying our night-nights, he interjected: "Mommy, I need to use the potty." It had been about six minutes since he'd gone. I suspected he was trying out a new bedtime stall tactic, but I couldn't not let him try. He sat on the potty. We waited. Then: "I don't need to go."

I had just caught my son in a lie - the first I'd ever noticed. The next night, it was the same thing all over again. I had no idea what to do.

So I started reading the research on childhood lying. Turns out there's a lot of it, because by studying how and when children lie, psychologists can glean new insights into psychological development. I, of course, was more interested in the practical applications: How do I keep my kid from turning into a sociopath? Dozens of research papers and several phone calls later, I've learned that not only is lying completely normal in kids, it's actually a sign of healthy development. And yes, there are things parents can do to foster honesty in their kids - things that I haven't been getting exactly right.

If your kid has been lying, "that's very, very normal," explains Kang Lee, a developmental psychologist at the University of Toronto who has been studying lying in children for 20 years. Generally, kids start to lie by around the age of 2 1/2  or 3, usually to cover up transgressions. In a classic 1989 study, researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey took individual 3-year-olds into a room equipped with a hidden video camera and a one-way mirror and sat them facing away from a table. The researchers told the children they were going to put a surprise toy on the table and instructed the kids not to look at it. Then the researchers left the room. They returned either once the children had peeked at the toy (most did) or after five minutes had passed, and asked the kids whether they had looked. A whopping 38 percent of the kids who had snuck a peek lied, assuring the researchers that they hadn't seen the toy. In a similarly designed 2002 study co-authored by Lee, 54 percent of 3-year-olds lied about peeking, whereas more than three-quarters of kids aged 4 to 7 did.

When kids lie, it's not a sign that they're on the road to delinquency - it's a sign that they are developing important psychological skills. One is "theory of mind," the ability to recognize that other people can have different beliefs or feelings from you. In order to lie, your child has to realize that although he knows full well that he broke your vase, you do not. Lying also requires "executive function," a complex set of skills that includes working memory, inhibitory control and planning capabilities. Your kid has to hide the truth, plan up an alternate reality, tell you about it, and remember it. Good job, kid!

So kids who lie are demonstrating important cognitive skills. But paradoxically, they also lie in part because they don't have great cognitive skills. Children are emotional and impulsive - they struggle a lot with inhibitory control, one aspect of executive function - which is why, despite your clear instructions not to, they will continue to use their forks as drumsticks and hit their siblings. Then, to cover up their mistakes, they'll lie to avoid getting punished. In other words, kids lie a lot in part because they can't help but defy you a lot, and they don't want to suffer the consequences. Can you blame them?

One easy thing we can do to keep our kids from lying is to avoid setting them up to do so. If you know full well Nathan ate the last cookie, you don't need to challenge him with Nathan, did you eat the last cookie? That's just asking him to fib - he can sense trouble is just around the corner, and he wants more than anything to avoid it. Instead, say something like, "I know you ate the last cookie, and now you're not going to have room for dinner, and unfortunately the consequence is going to be that you have no cookies tomorrow," suggests Angela Crossman, a developmental psychologist at CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Another thing you should absolutely not do, Lee says, is to tell your child that you won't get mad at him if he tells you the truth, and then get mad at him for telling you the truth. Parents do this all the time, he says, and it teaches kids that truth-telling gets punished, that they'd be better off lying. "You really have to live up to your end of the bargain - if your child tells the truth, then you say 'that's great,' and just ignore the bad behavior, regardless of how bad it is," Lee says.

OK, but when you do catch your kid in a lie, what should you do? First, because lies often go hand-in-hand with misdeeds, you need to separate the two in your mind. You have to address the fact that your kid broke the TV, and you also need to address the fact that she lied about it - but don't conflate the two, because they're different. If your kid broke the TV but was actually honest about it, you should, hard as it may be, commend her for her truth-telling even though you're ready to kill her about the TV. "Say, 'I'm glad you told me that it was you who broke the TV, but I'm still really concerned," says Victoria Talwar, a developmental psychologist at McGill University who studies lying in children and frequently collaborates with Lee.

Simply put, the best way to address a child's lie is calmly. Use the moment to talk to him about the importance of honesty. "Point out what he has just done, and tell him what you expect him to do, which is to tell the truth regardless - and tell him why it's important to tell the truth," Lee says. Explain the importance of trust. Lee cautions against punishing kids - particularly young preschoolers - for lying, because they often do not fully understand the concept of honesty. Punishing a kid for lying can also backfire, because kids understand that they only get punished if they are caught lying, so they may continue to lie but simply be more careful about it.

Instead, consider praising them when they are honest and repeatedly stressing the virtues of honesty. When Lee and his colleagues tested how well various stories curbed kids' tendencies to lie, they found that the story of "George Washington and the Cherry Tree," in which Washington confesses to chopping down his father's tree and is commended for doing so, was far more effective than "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," which warns against lying by highlighting its negative consequences. Also, in general, research suggests that children raised in punitive authoritarian environments - in which they are harshly punished either verbally or physically - are more likely to lie than are children who are punished for transgressions more gently, for instance with time-outs or scolding. So strict, punitive parenting practices are not necessarily the best approach to raising honest children.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly: Don't expect your kids to be honest if you're not. "If you are sending your kids the message that truth is really important, but they see you telling occasional small fibs to get out of things, they will see lying as a strategy they can use," Talwar says. Adults lie so frequently - to kids, friends, our own parents, telemarketers - that we almost don't even notice it. But our kids certainly do, and they love to emulate us. So the next time you catch your kid in a fib, ask yourself whether he may have learned it from you, and then consider giving him a bit of a break. After all, Talwar says, "It's a tricky thing to be honest all the time."

 

1
Text Only
Features
  • jc_Earp Marlin 2 - photo credit Noel Winters.jpg Shootout of a sale

    An original article of the Wild West will be made available at auction Thursday. The rifle of legendary lawman Wyatt Earp will be part of the J. Levine Auction & Appraisal’s Summer Quarterly Auction in Scottsdale, Ariz.
    Earp was an Arizona deputy sheriff and deputy town marshal in Tombstone, Ariz. He is legendary for playing a key role in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. He died in 1929 at age 60.
    Wyatt Earp collector Barry Tapp of Edmond will be selling his 1895 Wyatt Earp Marlin rifle at the auction. The rifle has an estimated value between $50,000 and $75,000. It includes authentication documentation from Tombstone Heritage Museum, according to the auction house

    July 28, 2014 2 Photos

  • 11.6.12 Mother and Cub (2).jpg UCO forensic researcher answers key question

    After working a few human recovery cases on a volunteer basis with a variety of police departments, a question kept bugging Kama King.
    “You spend the whole day,” the UCO W. Roger Webb Forensic Science Institute student said, “sometimes days, searching for someone and only find a skull or a few bones and it just ate at me. Are we not finding this or is it not there to be found?”

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Karan & Rwanda.jpg Peace through Business empowering women entrepreneurs

    Peace Through Business is part of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW) based in Oklahoma City. It is a program that connects small business entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Rwanda with business owners in Oklahoma. One such entrepreneur found out about the program from a friend, applied, and was accepted to take part in this year’s session.
    Upon earning a master’s degree in Civil Engineering from the Universite de Sciences et Technique de Lille in Belgium, Lyliose Nduhungirehe began her career working for a construction company in Brussels, but she quickly switched paths to Information Technology.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • How to care for your pet without breaking the bank

    It’s a shame furry friends can’t pay for themselves. Though wagging tails after a long day at work may make pet ownership seem worthwhile, a happy pup won’t stop those bills from rolling in at the end of the month. Thankfully, quick and easy ways exist for dog owners to cut down on costs.

    July 28, 2014

  • MS_new pastor_Page_1.tiff Local church welcomes new pastor

    For one of Edmond’s newest pastors, faith and family intersect on a personal level.
    Sam Powers, pastor at Edmond 1st United Methodist Church, 305 E. Hurd St., and his family arrived in mid-May and his first Sunday in the pulpit was the second one in June. He and his wife Sheryl Heaton Powers, have two children — Kyla will be an eighth-grader at Cheyenne Middle School and David will be a fifth-grader at John Ross Elementary.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • pm_Ramona Paul.jpg Keith, 5 others to receive service awards

    The 2014 Door-Opener Awards Gala dinner and silent auction Sept. 4, benefitting ASTEC Charter Schools, will recognize five outstanding Oklahomans and one Kansan for lifetime contributions made toward helping others in society maximize potential and achieve dreams.
    Those selected to receive a Door-Opener Award at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel event include Dr. Harvey Dean, Pittsburg, Kan.; Toby Keith and Tricia Covel, Norman; Former Gov. George P. Nigh, Edmond; the late Dr. Ramona Paul, Edmond; and Natalie Shirley, Oklahoma City.

    July 28, 2014 2 Photos

  • MS_Andy Billups.jpg Local man relies on experience in July 4 emergency

    Andy Billups just happened to have gained experience as a combat zone firefighter/medic while he was serving as a civilian contractor in Iraq.
    The Edmond businessman just happened to have a friend with a place on Grand Lake where he has been viewing Independence Day fireworks for a number of years, and he just happened to be there July 4.
    And he just happened to be relaxing on a hammock when he heard a some kids making a commotion.
    Located two blocks east of Disney on State Highway 28 in the foothills of the Ozark Mountain Range in northeast Oklahoma, the 59,000-plus surface acre Grand Lake is known for its state parks, marinas, restaurants, motels and fishing.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • -1.jpg 5-year-old learns valuable lessons

    It is never too soon to learn about giving and receiving. An Edmond 5-year-old recently learned about both.
    Kendall Kingry will be entering kindergarten at Will Rogers Elementary this fall and she is already looking forward to November.
    “I get to go to Disneyland in November,” Kendall said.

    July 26, 2014 2 Photos

  • peach formatted.jpg Hard year for peaches doesn’t dampen summer tradition  

    A rusting, silver-colored water tower tells visitors to this rural town between Muskogee and Tulsa that they’ve come to the “Peach Capitol of Oklahoma.”
    Residents of Stratford, the state’s other self-proclaimed peach capital, might beg to differ. Even so, Porter is known for its peaches, and every year thousands of people flood this town of about 600 residents to taste and celebrate the local crop during the three-day Peach Festival.
    Like the aging water tower, Porter’s peach industry isn’t as vibrant as it once was.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Final step to train toddler with baby on way

    Q: Using your advice, I successfully toilet-trained my daughter by age 16 months. It is now three months later and we are still using diapers at naps and nighttime. At her nap, which lasts several hours, she fully soaks her diaper. At night, she is taking off her diaper prior to falling asleep, wetting the bed after she goes to sleep and then crying for us when she wakes up in a pool of pee. Is this a sign that I should begin night training? I'm hesitant to do this because I am 8 months pregnant and don't relish the idea of waking up several times a night to take her to the bathroom and tending to a newborn as well. I would prefer to continue using diapers until she is old enough to get out of bed and take herself to the potty (even a potty in her room). Is this unrealistic? Or should I just deal with the extra night wakings and start taking her to the potty a few times a night now? If not, how do I keep her diaper on at night?

    July 25, 2014