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Recently, my almost two year old has started lying. It has taken us by a surprise; we are not sure if she means to lie, or if she doesn't understand what she is talking about. I'll give some examples...

The other day she was in a room by herself and I was just outside the room. No one else was around. All of a sudden I hear a thud followed by a cry. I checked on her; she had just fallen off a ball while trying to sit on it. Anyway, she wailed, "[her older sister] pushed me." Holding my laughter back, I calmly corrected her, "No, [daughter], you just fell off."

Then again, today, after her father gave her a bath and was trying to dry her, she came wailing to me, "Dada hit me. [her older sister] hit me." Nothing of the sort happened, she just wanted to run around wet instead of be dried. We both corrected her that no one hit her, that we just dried her.

I imagine that she is "lying" because well, at least in the first instance, she is used to only falling down because of her elder sister pushing her. So perhaps she thinks that she only falls when she is being pushed. No clue about the second one; maybe she feel that she needs a reason to cry? Not sure.

Has anyone run into this, if so, how did you deal with it?

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My two year old has started too. When told "no" by one parent, he goes to the other and claims the first said "yes". Answers, please consider that this is actual lying at this age instead of saying it must be a mistake. –  William Grobman Sep 11 '13 at 5:39
    
I can never figure out if my 18 month old is "lying" yet. When asked if she has a dirty diaper she usually says "no" when she does and "yes" when she does not. I'm not sure if she just doesn't know what I'm asking or if she's playing games. –  justkt Sep 12 '13 at 14:32
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@justkt - That's a common occurrence as far as I understand -- just not understanding what I am asking, I figure. But to actually "make up a story" about what happened -- that's far fetched! –  Swati Sep 12 '13 at 14:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Lying is actually a key developmental milestone.

A quick quote from Wellspringutah:

when a young child tells a lie, it is helpful for parents to remind themselves that it is not as much a crisis of morality as it is a signal of an important emerging developmental milestone. It might be a bit much to say that it is cause for celebration when a child tells his first lie, but it does show that the child is maturing cognitively. Lying demonstrates that a child is acquiring what child development specialists call “theory of mind.

and

Research has shown that deception starts in children between two and three years of age and that there is a marked increase between three and five years of age in a child’s use and understanding of deceptive strategies

So don't worry about it - in fact worry if they don't ever try this - but help them understand why lying is not a good practice through discussion.

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This is quite normal, as in it is a stage where the children try out how far they can get away with lying. They are testing you, and so it is important to make clear that this is not acceptable behavior. You should confront this every time you see it, and tell her that this is not true, and that she is not allowed to lie.

At the first attempts, the clear reason behind lying might not be obvious, as this is quite new to the child. She may have noticed someone else telling lies, and try to do it herself without fully understanding why people do so.

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"That's a lie, what happened was this, always tell the truth, it's nicer to always be honest" –  jsedano Sep 12 '13 at 17:26

Discovering how to be deceptive is common in the preschool child as this is often the point when they develop Theory of Mind (an understanding that different people can have a different understanding of the same event - the link has an article about the development of this in Asperger's kids, but I thought the cartoons contained within are some of the best for demonstrating how Theory of Mind works). I think it is unlikely your child is truly lying with a full understanding of what it is she is doing. She may be transferring another experience and just mimicking tha t other experience in a confusing to you and inappropriate way, who knows really. You might try out the "test" offered in the cartoon on the Theory of Mind Link to reassure yourself whether your child is likely lying or somehow being confusing.

Most kids don't really fully obtain the capacity to lie until well into their third of fourth year, but since it is a developmental milestone and not an age marker - it really depends upon the child when this truly begins. Since they aren't fully logical yet, it is really difficult for a preschooler to understand long - term consequences and benefits of anything let alone when it is something that seems beneficial in the short term which makes it pretty difficult to discipline for lying. If you decide it is possible your child is purposefully lying to you and it continues to come up or be a problem, I have included some additional ideas for you.

Preschoolers and other young children (Toddler - Early Elementary) don't typically have a lot of experience with the contrast between trust or lack-of-trust. Hopefully, most of the people they encounter are pretty trustworthy most of the time. The idea of trustworthiness as compared to a lack of trust is usually novel to them. This was something we really struggled with Alice (my daughter) on for awhile between the ages of three and four - and although she is honest most of the time, there are still times she is certainly tempted.

Certainly an average eight-year-old, should be able to understand the basic concepts of deception and trustworthiness. However, at the age of two if they are purposefully grasping exactly what they are doing, they probably do not understand the real-life consequences of their choice and are really experiementing with a new skill - which is part of how they learn about it. I often find it best when there is a "new problem" with kids at these earlier ages to talk about the concept through characters in stories in order to remove it from being too personally close and get at the heart of why the behavior is a problem before linking directly to the child's own choices.

For a child that is an auditory learner and relates well to stories, two classics to take a look at are: "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" and "Pinnochio". My own little one was still unable to explain why other characters in a variety of modern takes on a "Boy Who Cried Wolf" as well as the original did not go to the boy's aid at the end of the story right up until around age five.

In order to teach the concept of "trustworthiness" and how easy it is to lose the status of being trustworthy, I found a suggestion where family members take one another for "trust walks" online and laughed at myself for not having thought of it on my own because it was something I did almost every year with my middle-schoolers. You know, you pair up and one member is blindfolded and then you trade. Go through the exercise and be trustworthy, but then ask of the child (children), "how would you have felt if I had . . . " and then fill in with an untrustworthy action. You could trying throwing in one untrustworthy action during a second round with the activity if you think they really need the point driven home hard. When we finally did this activity a few years ago, the difference between before the trust walk and after was dramatic. It really sent the message home in regard to what her daddy and I had tried to express to her so many times before.

Once the concepts of trustworthiness and honesty are understood fully in a more personal way, many families, including ours, use the "second consequence" tact. The idea is that there is a second consequence added onto any original consequence that would have existed without the lie. When children know this is coming it can be a good deterrent to lying. We also continue to discuss how important trust is and remind about the natural consequence of "loss of trust" whenever this "second consequence" must be used. As often as is possible, there is a third "consequence" that drives this point home soon after a situation where a lie has been used. For example, "no, you can't go to your friend's house because I can't trust you to clean up your messes without me watching over you. That means I can't trust you to help clean up your messes while at your friend's house where I can't check on you as much." (when a child has claimed to have cleaned something up that didn't really get cleaned) "I guess you'll have to work on earning back more trust by being more honest".

I feel the more ways the discussion can be had and the topic can be addressed, the sooner and more fully the importance of trustworthiness and how to maintain it will be understood. I do know this will be an "on going" discussion in any household as the temptations simply become greater as they continue to get older.

Since we were having all the trouble with lying, we have also worked with a book titled, "E Is for Ethics" by Ian James Corlett. It is a wonderful book with many more subjects than honesty and trust (but these two subjects are addressed as individual subjects as well) Each chapter begins with a story that is basically a kid- sized conundrum about what the right thing to do is. The book sets up the story and then gives guides for how to go about discussing the best outcome with your kids.

Just remember, lying is a natural thing for kids to try out a few times. The fact that they've lied a few times, doesn't make them a bad kid - its just an opportunity to learn and practice better choices and habits. What will help your kid most is if you stay calm, don't worry about it too much but apply appropriate consequences and apply them consistently.

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Thanks for posting that! –  called2voyage Jan 10 at 14:32

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