Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lying Is Not Intentional Until Age 8

Lying occurs in children in every culture of the world. By age 4, 90% of children have the ability to lie.  

At their first tweaking of the truth, usually around the age of 4but as early as 2, we want to brand children as liars. Which is rather ironic, given the prevalence of lying in adults:

Most people lie in everyday conversation when they are trying to appear likable and competent.
The study found that 60 percent of people lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation and told an average of two to three lies.
"People tell a considerable number of lies in everyday conversation. It was a very surprising result. We didn't expect lying to be such a common part of daily life," Feldman said.
However, lying is not cognitively active until the age of 8! This is when a child has entered Piaget's Concrete Operational Stage of cognitive development and has developed inductive reasoning. 

Until the age of 7-8, lying is simply wishful thinking/story telling. The child does not have control over it. They do it because they truly want it to be the way they say, to keep out of trouble, or to make you or another adult happy. They will also alter their thought processes so that they ACTUALLY BELIEVE that is what happened. Once again, you can not punish a child for something they have no control over. 

Lying is NOT LYING until the brain goes through its massive maturation process around age 8. At that point children gain the abilities not only to distinguish between reality and make-believe, but also to control their responses through conscious choice.  

Lying is an important development milestone:
That’s because lying is an integral part of developing what psychologists call a “theory of mind.” Briefly, theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own.
At age 4-6 you can begin to start your child questioning their statements, such as "Is that real or make-believe?" "Is that what really happened, or what you WISH had happened?" 

However, there does need to be an appropriate response to inappropriate behavior. 

  • "There are crayon marks on the wall, so the crayons have to be in time-out for a week." (denied writing on wall) 
  • "Your friend is crying because you were not a nice friend, so you have to go into time-out." (denied pushing/hitting/taking toy, but you know it happened) 
  • Story telling, "I have a pet lion," should simply be encouraged. "Really, what color is he? Does he eat a lot of meat?" 
  • Imaginary friends, etc. should be thoughtfully encouraged as your child explores their emerging imagination and learns the intricacies of using it in all it's many facets 
Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crockett Johnson

Adults view lying in stark black and white; while until age 8, STORYTELLING is very vivid and colorful for your child, with little to no delineation between reality and make-believe. 

A child should not be punished for things they have little to no control over. Even if they KNOW they are telling a fib, they may not be capable of NOT doing so. 

I have observed, many times, adults yelling at a 4 -5 year old, or jerking them around saying, "Don't LIE to me!" when the child is too young to even have a grasp on the concept. 

This is also a common thread on child care provider discussion forums. Parents and caregivers who do not have a good background in child development, having unrealistic expectations of a child's ability and intent regarding lying.

Children are often driven to lie through confrontation. A calm discussion and more open-ended questions can produce better outcomes, along with praise for telling the truth and helping to determine their own discipline. Children are usually harsher on themselves. 

Adults also need to be very aware of the example they are setting for the child, and any tendency they may have to prompt their child to lie. "Don't tell mom that I let you eat that!" "Don't tell grandma that daddy isn't really sick." 

Example is the greatest educator.

This also means that we need to take what a child says with a good dose of skepticism. They can say things that are untrue, not realizing the consequences. For instance, getting a sibling or friend into trouble by placing blame elsewhere. Or, extrapolating something they heard on TV to a real-life situation that could not only cause confusion, but concern.

Does this mean we allow them to be little hellions and get away with it? Of course not. But while we are molding future adults, we can't forget the child that is before us. The CHILD needs gentle guidance and instruction onto the correct path, not forced entry onto the highway. 

This is an area that adults have a tendency to over react and immediately think the child is going to be a degenerate, lying, self-absorbed, manipulative, criminal, amoral adult because they told their first or fifth fib. 

In actuality, it just shows that the kid is smart enough to think up how to get or stay out of trouble, and get or do what they want. Smart and imaginative isn't bad.

Lying is complex and takes advantage of advanced skills

  • Cognitive advancement - to determine that a lie is called for and has a potential for gain of some kind 
  • Cost/benefit analysis - if I get caught; do I really need to do it
  • Inhibitory control - to be able to think up an effective lie on the spot
  • Creativity - to be able to determine if it is believable or appropriate to the situation
  • Working memory - to remember the details of the truth and lie when questioned
  • Social adroitness - understanding people, situations, and how they should or can respondknowledge of rules & consequences

In my previous post regarding assessments, I failed to mention that one of the first indicators to me of a child's level of intelligence, is how early they first lie.
The smarter they are, the earlier they lie. 
The smarter they are, the better they lie. 

It is our responsibility to teach them how to use those qualities for good rather than evil, without squelching that creative and independent spark. 
Tags: lying, lies, liar, preschool, child care, daycare, homeschool, homeschooling, ethics, morality, child development, business, kids, kid, make believe, 

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