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Lying Around

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Most parents can't stand it when kids lie ... but it might not be such a big deal after all.

Boy talking to parents

Gay Uncle Brett Berk: Parents often get extremely aggravated, or concerned, or humiliated when their kids tell a lie. Why? Because they believe it means their child is devious and manipulative. Well, the Gay Uncle advises you to check this behavior. Why? Because young kids generally have difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality when they're relating information. Part of this is because it's hard for them to accurately recall anything beyond the proximal and present tense. Part of it is because they're constantly being exposed to a torrent of new ideas and their tiny brains are short-circuited by their efforts to incorporate it all. (And part of it is indeed because they're innately evil and mouthpieces of the devil.)

Obviously, part of your job as a parent is to help your kid learn to understand the distinction between truth and invention -- you can point out concrete examples in books or movies, or in their lives. But when you're grilling them about how their Polly Pocket Disco Roller Rink ended up under the bathroom sink the previous week, their confessions shouldn't be held to the same standards as an expert witness in a criminal trial. What we think of as "lying" often reflects a child's best efforts -- given their limited abilities -- to reconstruct a past event, to create a comprehensible solution for an occurrence whose causality they don't actually understand, or simply to tell us what they believe we want to hear. In these cases, focus on the action you want them to accomplish ("Put your toys away when you're done with them") rather than the confounding pathway leading up to it, and then move on.

In the rare instances when you're forced to determine culpability with respect to an action you think your young child may have taken, do everyone a favor and don't bother with questions to which you already know the answer. ("Who drew this backwards, yellow letter E on the dining room wall?") Just spell out the situation and the solution for them. ("Crayons are to be used on paper only. I'm going to get a rag so you can help me clean this up.") If your child suspects that you're so dumb that you can't tell when they're the culprit, they're sure to feel that you won't be able to detect a lie. If, however, you let them think you're omnipotent and all knowing, it's less likely they'll see the value of attempting to hide the truth in the first place.



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