I remember the scenario all too well: we were coming back from a weekend away, and we noticed that there were crayon marks on the window next to our then 3 year old sitting innocently in her car seat. “How did that crayon mark get there?” we asked. She replied, quite sweetly, “A monster did it.” Uh huh. We gave her several more opportunities to confess before arriving home and she rather impressively stuck to her guns. Apparently we had a monster in the car with us, too.
It wasn’t until a couple days later that she finally admitted to being the crayon culprit, but the scene has stuck with me as it’s the first time that she ever outright lied to us. What made her lie? And what should we do about it?
Luckily, from a developmental perspective, lying in young children ages 2-4 years old is rarely cause for concern. In fact, child psychologists will tell you it’s among the first signs a young child has developed a “theory of mind.” In other words, their cognitive skills are developing. While lying itself may not be socially desirable (especially to parents!), the ability to know what others are thinking and feeling is an important social skill and is related to empathy, cooperation, and care for others when they’re feeling upset.
Now, if lying is persistent and impairing the child’s ability to function effectively in daily life, consider consulting a mental health expert or your pediatrician. Otherwise, remember that lying is just one way children learn to navigate the social world. Open and warm discussions about the importance of telling the truth should eventually help to reduce children’s lies as they develop.