Kids are great liars
Research shows that we don’t really know when kids tell fibs.
‘I didn’t touch it,’ says the 8-year-old, standing wide-eyed amid the broken shards of an expensive vase.

Parents are often taken aback at the bare-faced lying of their youngsters. But it’s expected in those circumstances, when they are trying to save their own skins. What comes as more of a surprise is when children lie or make up elaborate stories, for no apparent reason.  And how good at it they are.

Lying convincingly is something kids do easily, or so it seems from research quoted in the book Nutureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. In a test conducted by at McGill University in Montreal, most adults scored the same in the test as if they had guessed the answers. Only teachers consistently scored better than chance when trying to identify false stories from real.

As parents, we may think we know our own children well enough to tell if they’re fibbing, but parents scored only slightly better than average on the test.

One of the reasons is that children have a higher natural variation of some of the key ‘tells’ that we expect from lying adults. ‘Voice pitch, pupil dilation, eye tracking, lack of sensory details, and chronological storytelling are some indication of lying in adults,’ say Bronson and Merryman. But they don’t work the same way in kids, as they vary more even when telling the truth.

Our prejudices get in the way when it comes to telling when children lie. For example, people are more likely to believe that girls are being truthful, but gender isn’t actually relevant in lying. We also tend to think younger children are more likely to lie, which is not correct.

How to minimise lying
  • Set a good example. Every time you duck out of a boring social event with a fake headache, your child takes notes.
  • Stay calm. Accusing in a loud, threatening manner is not the way to get the truth out of a child. ‘Usually children do not lie when it is safe to tell the truth,’ advises Parent24 parenting expert Anne Cawood.
  • Explain the consequences of lying in a calm, rational way, and offer the child the opportunity to tell the whole truth. Don’t start screaming and shouting again the minute he admits to having done the deed.
  • Avoid labelling your child a liar. Labels can become self-fulfilling prophesies.
  • Give positive reinforcement to the truth. ‘I am glad you were honest. Now please clean up the mess.’
Can you tell when your child is lying? How?

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