Saturday, August 20, 2011

Liar Liar

A while ago I posted on lying in children. It has ended up being one of my most read posts. So read, that I did a CBS 11 segment on it. So read, that I'm giving a talk on it today. So read, that I decided to add some more information.

You can read the original post and watch the CBS clip here but to quickly recap: children don't lie to be bad. Are you shocked? Don't be. Kiddos may be avoiding punishment, yes, but in reality they are practicing a new skill they're learning- that I know something you don't know. I can lie to you about it and you won't know that I'm not telling you the truth. 

But why do kids lie? Where does it come from?

Lying comes from a bigger set of skills called Theory of Mind. It's this idea that we can know about our own thoughts and also the thoughts of others. I can know for example, that you're reading this and assume I'm a professional and am giving you credible information. So I could, in theory, be making all of this up. But I also know enough about other people's motives to know that you could find out that I'm not giving you credible information. You could, in essence, find out whether I'm a liar. So I'll tell you the truth :)

How do researchers know when kids learn these Theory of Mind skills? One way is to test how much kiddos know about what someone else knows. Watch this clip of a classic 'false belief' task- in which children's ability to understand that people can have differing beliefs (just because I know something doesn't necessarily mean you do) is tested.

Now, you're probably thinking, 'Wait a second. My 3-year-old lies all the time. He totally knows the difference between what I know and what I don't know. Every time I say, 'Did you brush your teeth?' He shakes his head yes and his toothbrush is bone dry. Does this mean my child is a genius-MENSA-baby?' Yes. Wait, no. Turns out, lying is one of the first cognitively complex skills children learn. That figures, right? Also, you've probably figured out that very young children aren't really the, ahem, best liars. I'm just saying, he could have wet the toothbrush to make it really believable. 

I digress. The point is, this skill is developmental, meaning it doesn't develop overnight. Which is great, because it gives parents an opportunity to intercede and teach kids why the truth is good and lying is not so good. 

I'll talk more about that next time. And also why punishment doesn't work to help your children stop lying :)


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