Supriya Bhatia, M.D.
Research suggests that children develop the ability to lie between ages 2 and 4. As a parent, it is important to understand the milestones that are the building blocks for lying to effectively teach your child the importance of honesty.
Why Toddlers Lie
At the toddler stage in a child's development, it can be difficult for him or her to tell the difference between make believe and reality.
When children of this age tell a lie, they don't necessarily mean to deceive. Lying is their way of constructing the reality that they wish was true. They think that if they say something happened a certain way, that's what happened, so they do not have to worry about being in trouble.
The Psychology of a Toddler's Lie
Children don't just begin telling lies as soon as they start talking. Telling a lie requires a certain level of cognitive development that children begin to achieve when they reach toddler age.
To tell a lie, a toddler must understand that he or she can have different thoughts than the adults surrounding him or her. From this discovery, skills such as independence will grow.
In addition, lying requires understanding that the person who the child is lying to has unique thoughts and a different perspective than the child who is weaving the story. This is why parents find it is easy to catch a young toddler in a lie. The toddler may claim that it was a baby sibling who broke the lamp, even though the baby cannot reach the lamp and the parent who the toddler is lying to is well aware of that fact. As toddlers age, their lies will become more believable because they learn how to adjust their stories to satisfy the perspective of their listeners.
What to Do When You Catch Your Toddler Lying
The first thing to do when you catch your toddler in a lie is to remind yourself that your child is not lying to deceive or hurt you or anyone around him or her. In the mind of a toddler, creating an alternate reality is the best way to handle the situation.
To teach the importance of honesty, try the following tactics: