Lying: When Is It A Normal Developmental Stage And When Should You Be Worried?

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So, your child is telling frequent fibs. When do you need to do something about it and when can you let it ‘lie’? We’ve got the facts. Telling porky-pies, fibbing, making up stories – call it what you want. All kids do it and, in most cases, it’s a very normal part of development. The question is, when do innocent porky pies turn into full-blown lies? When should you worry? And what can you do about it?

The lie-downIf your child has taken to lying, don’t panic. In fact, you should breathe a sigh of relief. Experts claim that it’s actually an important developmental milestone that can be reached as early as the age of two. By the age of three, half of children will be telling fibs, and by five – seven years old, almost all of them will be.Telling lies shows that your child has achieved theory of mind (an understanding that people have their own thoughts that differ from one’s own) and executive function (the power to plan ahead). In short, it’s perfectly normal and is rarely a cause for concern. However, there are instances where the behaviour may require special attention.

According to clinical psychologist, Richard Parry, one of the first signs that your child’s lying may signify a bigger problem is if he or she starts doing it frequently. “In these instances, it’s important to identify the reasons behind the child’s lying.” Richard states that children may take to lying regularly to “make themselves appear in a good light, cope with self-esteem issues, get their parents’ attention or deal with high expectations that have been placed upon them.” If your frequently fibbing tyke has siblings, lying can also be a way to get ‘one up’ on them in an attempt to win mom and dad’s favour. Richard points out that “some of this may be a normal manifestation of sibling rivalry but it may be a sign that the rivalry needs addressing.”What to do about itIf you fear your child’s fibs may be getting out of hand, there are a few things that you can do to curb the behaviour.

  • Set a good example. “As parents, we often become moralistic about our children’s lying, but forget all the ‘white’ lies that we tell on a daily basis!” says Richard.
  • Praise and encourage honesty. Most kids want nothing more than to please their parents. If they realise that telling the truth gets them a better reaction than telling lies, they’re likely to turn over a new, more honest leaf! Remember – positive reinforcement can work wonders.
  • Explain to your child why lying is bad. Read books and watch kids’ shows that emphasise this message – “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is a classic for a reason!
  • See a child psychologist. If, despite your best efforts, your little Pinocchio continues to lie incessantly, a visit to a child psychologist may be in order. He or she will be able to help get to the bottom of why the behaviour is continuing and provide you with tailored advice on how to put an end to it for good. Ultimately, patience, understanding and a gentle approach is key. It’s no lie that you almost always get more with honey than you do with vinegar!
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