Parents often fail to address early childhood lying, since the lying is almost innocent--their child's too young to know what lies are, or that lying's wrong. When their child gets older and learns those distinctions, the parents believe, they lying will stop. This is dead wrong, according to Dr. Talwar. The better a young child can distinguish a lie from truth, the more likely she is to lie given the chance.
It happens every day:
In studies where children are observed in their homes, four-year-olds will lie once every two hours, while a six-year-old will like about once an hour. Few kids are an exception. In these same studies, 96% of all kids offer up lies.
Learning about white lies:
Simultaneously as they learn to craft and maintain a lie, kids also learn what it's like to be lied to. But children don't start out thinking lies are okay, and gradually realize they're bad. The opposite is true. They start out thinking all deception--of any sort--is bad, and slowly realize that some types are okay.
How parents can stop lying:
What really works is to tell the child, "I will not be upset with you if you peeked, and you tell the truth. I will be really happy." This is an offer of both immunity and a clear route back to good standing. Talwar explained this latest finding: "Young kids are lying to make you happy--trying to please you." So telling kids that the truth will make a parent happy challenges the kid's original thought that hearing good news--not the truth--is what will please the parent.
We teach our children to lie:
Despite the number of times she's seen it happen, she's regularly amazed at parents' apparent inability to recognize that a white lie is still a lie.
Why it matters:
Encouraged to tell so many white lies, children gradually get comfortable with being disingenuous. Insincerity becomes, literally, a daily occurrence. They learn that honestly only creates conflict, while dishonesty is an easy way to avoid conflict. And while they don't confuse white-lie situations with lying to cover their misdeeds, they bring this emotional groundwork from one circumstance to the other.
They've learned that nine times out of ten a kid runs up to a parent to tell [tattle], that kid is being completely honest. And while it might seem to a parent that tattling is incessant, to a child that's not the case--because for every one time a child seeks a parent for help, there were fourteen other instances when he was wronged and did not run to the parent for aid.
When the child--who's put up with as much as he can handle--finally comes to tell the parent the honest truth, he hears, in effect, "Stop bringing me your problems!" According to one researcher's work, parents are ten times more likely to chastise a child for tattling than they are to chide a child who lied.
The era of holding information back from parents has begun.
From Chapter Four: Why Kids Lie in NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman