At our last appointment, our pediatrician told us we would start to see our 3 year old twins tell “tall tales”. She told us not to be concerned or dissuade them. The honest truth is – lies have benefits.
If she had not warned me, my inclination would have been to immediately curtail these “lies”. However, lies at this age can be a sign of the development of creative thinking and problem solving – skills I want my girls to develop.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explains how a child’s ability to lie is actually a developmental milestone, such as walking and talking. The research of Dr. Kang Lee, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, discusses how lying begins early: “Among verbal 2-year-olds, 30% try to pull the wool over their parents’ eyes at some point. At age 3, 50% regularly try it. Fibbing is common among 80% of 4-year-olds and is seen in nearly all healthy 5- to 7-year-olds.”
Dr. Lee says “Lying requires two ingredients. Children need to understand what’s in someone else’s mind — to know what they know and what they don’t know. We call this ability theory of mind. The children who are better at theory of mind are also better at lying. The second requirement is executive function — the power to plan ahead and curb unwanted actions.” He published his research findings in the Psychological Science journal.
The takeaway is NOT to encourage your children to lie, but to understand why young children start to lie as their brains develop and to treat it as a developmental milestone they are crossing and an opportunity for you to teach, provide context and discuss meanings and consequences of their actions.
Ask “What is a lie?” “Why do we tell the truth?” “What happens if we tell lies?” “Do you think lies could hurt someone?”
I’m glad my pediatrician mentioned this to us, otherwise I would have missed the chance to recognize a key milestone for my children, and a learning opportunity for me as a parent.