Lies: I Really Want to Believe You, But….

Dear Mr. Dad, I have a real problem with my ten-year-old daughter: Just about everything she says is a lie. If she tells me she’s texting a girl friend from school, it’s probably a boy. If I ask whether she’s cleaned her room, she’ll look me straight in the eye and tell me Yes, even though I know (and she knows I know) that she didn’t lift a finger. If I were to ask her if grass is green, she’d probably tell me it isn’t. Why is she doing this and how can we get her to stop?

A: Telling lies is a part of human nature, and it starts very early in life. A study on lying done at Toronto University in Canada found that about 20% of two-year-olds lie, but by age four, 90% were doing it. And the lying doesn’t stop when we grow up. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that 60% of adults can’t make it through a simple 10-minute conversation without telling at least one lie (in fact, people in the study told an average of three lies in that 10-minute period).

Lying is a learned behavior. When we’re very young, we look at the adults in our lives as all-powerful and all-knowing. Trying out a lie—and getting away with it—shows us that people can’t read our minds. As we get older, we discover that lying can sometimes get us out of trouble and may even help us avoid getting punished. The more successful the lies, the more often they’ll be told.

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Lying, Cheating, and Stealing

In recent weeks, my six-year-old has suddenly become completely untrustworthy, lying, cheating, and stealing whenever she gets a chance. Yesterday we came home from the grocery store and I found that she had stolen some candy! I’m getting worried, not to mention the fact that I’m feeling like a bad parent. What can I do to nip this in the bud?

The first thing to do is relax. Child development experts agree that before age three, kids have no clear understanding that these behaviors are wrong. Between three and six, children develop an understanding that lying, cheating, and stealing are wrong and they begin some innocent exploration of limits, lying about little things, like whether they’ve washed their hands or gone to the bathroom.
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