Like a flu virus in a preschool lunch room, the question comes up every 6 months or so as to “Why do children lie?” and “What does it mean?” and “What do you do about it?” The latest incarnation was on CNN/health in a Parenting.com article.
There is huge divergence out there on the answers to the above questions. Even when the conclusions are correct, like Michael Brody, M.D. who correctly says “There’s nothing wrong with telling it [a lie]” he’s grossly mistaken when he says that, “Very young kids don’t know the difference between truth and fiction.”
And again later in the CNN article, when it states “It doesn’t make sense to punish toddlers for truth bending, since they don’t get that what they’re doing is wrong.” Right conclusion for the wrong reasons, again.
Alix Finkelstein in her book, Baby Name Tool Data Set and her article “Baffling Kid Behavior – Explained” subtitled “Why they say one thing and then do another — and how to know what they really want” concludes with the assessment that is chilling: “Kids are a bundle of contradictory impulses.”
So, what do the above proclamations tell us? Can these authorities with all these published works and fancy letters after their name be mistaken?
It is very clear; children can tell what contingencies are operating in different contexts as well as when those contingencies change. They understand counter-control before the parents are driven to pap in doctor office magazine racks for clues on what “counter-control” means.
Parents are the one’s that have been deceived and have not been told the truth. For instance, parents are told that the ‘Terrible twos’ is just a phase that the children go through, etc. That period boils down to the children learning rules – everyone’s rules, faster than the parents learning the children’s rules. They and teachers and ‘authorities’ see no inconsistencies with encouraging their children they can be President of the United States some day [or a princess or baseball player] with that same child also needing different strategies of how to navigate the politics of third grade.
The enveloping scheme here though is the different rule sets the parents have that conflict with the rule sets the child have.
Ask the 3 year olds living on the streets of Rio de Janeiro without parents if they know the difference between truth and fiction. Ask the four year olds working in the factories around the world if they can tell the difference between right and wrong, good and bad or about ‘truth’. Ask the five year olds in Bagdad, Darfur, Mexico City, NYC, Moscow and Rome if they understand the rules (contingencies) for telling the truth, lying and what is fiction. Consequences control behavior. Get over it and on with life.
We all live in a world of fantasy and reality. Telling the difference is not easy for children and it is not easy for adults who have been given license to be uncritical of what controls behavior. It is not made easier with superstition and traditions that foster fantasy masked as reality – Christmas – the Easter Bunny – grandpa is now sleeping in heaven – mommy is busy – when the child senses what is going on and it is not what is reported to be going on.
For a child to NOT pick up the differences on what is going on and what he or she is told defines a level of what all parents dread more than anything…the child is a dolt! For parents to NOT manage these relationships with communication supports the contention that parents don’t understand behavior –theirs or their children’s – any better than Finkelstein does above with her assessment that “Kids are a bundle of contradictory impulses.”
Here is a list of scenarios that lead to lying. Can you tell which are for children and which are for adults?
- Boredom – lack of stimulation and social attention
- Anger over some broken rules by others
o Their own rules conflict
- Seeking material gain
- Story telling to connect things that seem unconnected
- They want the lie to be the truth
- Escape / avoidance from aversive stimulation
I can’t tell either.