Should we encourage our children to lie?
On the face of it this question seems a no brainer. Of course there are issues with children lying!
It can be exhausting when young children deliberately lie. I remember myself being asked “Did you cut your hair”, at the age of 5, when I was missing a square cut from my fringe. “No” was my answer. “OK. Well, which scissors did you use?”, “The orange ones”, I replied. This very common back and forth can be agonising, but it is a normal stage in development.
Very small children, under the age of 3 or 4 are simply unable to lie. As far as they are aware, anyone and everyone can read their mind. So, for a young tot, parents are ‘mind-readers’. They fundamentally believe that you can read their thoughts and feelings. At the age of 3 or 4, neuro-typical children begin to be able to work out that others may think differently to themselves. They begin to learn that what you might think may be different than what I may think. As a result, children use this new skill and practice their new ability through such things as lying. As frustrating as it may be, lies are a normal part of development.
While lying is a normal part of growing up, it can also be extremely worrying. For instance, lying about serious issues can be extremely concerning. Sometimes children are asked to lie and keep secrets to protect others. A child who has been abused may be asked to keep secrets and lie to others. In such cases, it’s always important for your child to know they can come to you with any problem, no matter how big or small and you will always be there to support them.
Recently we heard from a kinship carer who was at the end of her tether. Julie looks after her 8-year-old grandson due to his mum’s drug and alcohol dependency. Julie called us feeling stuck and exhausted from the constant lies and exaggerations about his mum.
Do these things sound familiar? “My mum is an astronaut”, “She’s the fastest runner in the world”, “my mum takes me on holidays whenever I want”, “my mum has a swimming pool full of ice-cream”.
I wonder… could there be some positives in lying? What if we look at things a little different. Rather than ‘telling stories’, what about seeing it as ‘storytelling’?
What we have experienced shapes what we think and feel about ourselves. Our life story shapes our identity. The story: “mum abandoned me, drinks too much and never turns up” is a harsh reality to accept. So, what if we could imagine a better story? We could tell our friends, our loved ones, and ourselves the story we want to hear.
We spend much of our lives avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. For children who have been through trauma, storytelling is one way they can escape the painful stories and enjoy the fantasies they wish were true. Wouldn’t it be great if we could escape the heartbreak? Some young children do exactly that when they tell tall tales.
A difficult question rarely has a simple answer. It might be satisfying to have a one word conclusion, but that would miss the point here. Lying is not as black and white as it seems.
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If you’ve had challenges with lying, we’d love to hear from you!
Call: 08000 28 22 33, text: 07860 022844
Web-chat at: www.parentlinescotland.org.uk