Why Toddlers Lie and How to Manage It


When mother came home, she saw that Bunty’s mouth was covered with chocolate syrup. When she asked if he drank the chocolate; he completely denied. He continued explaining, saying that a big bear came from the window with a baby lion and they both drank the chocolate syrup.

The above scenario is quite common that parents of toddlers generally have to face. Often parents are worried about what it means for their children? What kind of a person their child will turn into? Are they pathological liar? Etc. A just concern.

Causes of Lying :-

1. Wishful Thinking

Toddlers are at a stage of life where they are trying to understand the world and their own self. At this stage, they have just started learning about communication so they try experimenting with what they are saying. Remember, kids between 2 to 4 years of age doesn’t understand the concept of lying. If you force it on them then they will only understand its consequences and not the moral implication that adults have. They are under a course of trying to distinguish between what is reality and what is fantasy. In their mind, if they have done something wrong and they immediately regret it, they will make up a story where things went ideally. The perfect world. It is not because they are liars, it’s because they think that saying it with conviction will turn it into a reality.

2. To Avoid Consequences

As I said before, toddlers are at a stage of life where they are trying to find a balance between the worldly expectations and their own needs. If you tell them not to eat the chocolate and they still do it, punishing the kids will appear like a sensible idea to parents. But punishments have to be age appropriate. Beating kids is quite acceptable in Indian parenting under the assumption of ‘disciplining’ kids. We often misunderstand ‘training’ as ‘disciplining’. A disciplined kid will obey you even in your absence but a ‘trained’ kid will not. ‘Training’ is motivated by fear while ‘discipline’ on reasoning. So, avoid physical beating because doesn’t matter what, kids are going to repeat their mistakes in this stage. The best you can do is to make them understand why they should not. Physical beating can throw off your kid from telling the truth if they repeat their mistakes, which they probably will.

3. Modeling

Your kids look up to you to understand the world around them. Whatever you do or however you behave is the “right way” for them. If you are lying  to others, in front of your children, they will accept it without a second thought because for them parents are perfect. Whatever they do is ideal. If you are lying around them or if they learn from others about your lies, that’s exactly how they are going to behave. You may think that your awkward toddler doesn’t understand this but they do. In such scenarios, apologize in their presence and tell them how sorry you feel for telling lies and praise them again for being a good kid. A little precaution will only make your life easier.

Lying and Cognitive Skills:-

According to a research of professor Angela Crossman of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, early lying is associated with higher level of IQ. So instead of worrying, it actually gives parents an indication of their child’s advanced cognitive skills. Lying is not evil altogether. Sometimes lying is necessary to avoid hurting someone’s feelings and such lies are called  Prosocial lies. “Theory of Mind” states, lying requires an understanding of two major components, to understand what is in others minds and that it can contradict with their own beliefs. Beliefs they will have to accept instead of being stubborn about it. This kind of complex thought process for a toddler is a big achievement. Such children develop good social skills and often has happier social lives. To conclude, lying is a sign of rich socio-cognitive functions.

How to Manage :

1. Don’t Label

Even if your kid is lying frequently, don’t call them a liar. Such labels can brand their mind forever and even if they don’t turn out like that in future, still they will believe them as they came from the people they trust the most in the world, their parents. So, avoid labels and name-calling and shaming in front of others.

2. Stay Factual

Even when you know the truth, don’t announce it. If your child is covered with chocolate syrup and says that a bear and lion drank the syrup, believe it and ask him, “Why is your face has chocolate all over it?” This will give him/her time to stop and think. This is the point when you  tell them that, “Eating so much chocolate will upset your tummy and ache at night and that will make mommy upset too, do you want that to happen?” If your kid is smart enough to lie like that then they are smart enough to understand what this means.

3. Encourage Honest Behavior

Kids are going to make plenty of mistakes and repetitive lies are one of them. You cannot completely prevent that from happening, it’s part of their learning process. Talk and discuss with them the importance of truthfulness. Reward them when they are honest. Show them cartoons where honesty and good behavior is praised by parents and society.

4. Ask. Don’t Interrogate

Sometimes parents ask back to back questions. Toddlers can find them annoying as they sound threatening and are leading to uncover their lies. In such times, they can throw a tantrum you are not going to like. They will cry and swear to convince you as they think repeating it will make their version real. Ask them in a loving tone and assure them. Also ask them for a solution, for example, “What should we do with the mess in the room?” and if they answer with “cleaning”, praise them.

5. Trust Them

Show your proactive trust. Tell them, “I know you are going to take care of your brother and the house when I’m gone, won’t you?” Such statements will make your expectations clear for them and the positive feelings will make them more willing to do it.

The Big Picture

Sometimes toddlers are convinced of others wrong doings but forget their part in the mischief. They will remember that their sibling hit them but will conveniently forget that they started the fight first. In such cases make them realize what happened, you have to make them realize what they have done and what they have forgotten. Then ask both of them to apologize to each other.

Lying in toddlers is not a red flag but a natural process. Still, keeping an eye and monitoring their behavior is necessary.

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