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Lying Child: Can You Tell When Your Child is Lying?

Lying Child: Can You Tell When Your Child is Lying?

posted by Karen Quinn, The Testing Mom - August 9th, 2013

biting nails

We’ve talked before about a familiar phenomenon: the lying child. Today we tackle the question: Can parents tell if their children are lying?

The answer is, some of the time. Sometimes parents can tell because children’s lies aren’t very good. Sometimes it’s obvious if you ask the child, “Did you eat that chocolate chip cookie?” The child says, “No,” and meanwhile chocolate is smeared across their face.

Sometimes children, even though they start to lie at a young age, are not very sophisticated liars. They will actually lie to you in front of you when you’ve actually seen them do the deed. They’ve scribbled on the kitchen table with their crayons and you say to them, “Did you scribble on the kitchen table?” And they’ll go, “No.” Even though you’ve actually seen them do it. They’re just going to try. You had to ask the question so maybe I can get away with the no even though you were standing there.

They’ll try things out and they’re not very good at them, but on the other hand, when parents have no reason to suspect anything and we’ve shown their children to them in different situations, they often aren’t the best at detecting. What prevents you from detecting, even though the child’s lie might be obvious and not very sophisticated is there is a general tendency to believe your children. You have to realize it’s actually quite normal and it’s part of the relationship of trust that’s built up between parent and child. It actually serves a very adaptive function. You want to believe your children. There are some lies that you’re not going to necessarily detect.

We’re not very good at it because generally, unless we have some reason to believe otherwise, we assume people are being truthful to us. We have that trust in our social interactions.

If you think about it, this is a fundamental part of human communication. We need to believe that most of the time people are being truthful. Otherwise, if you went around thinking that no one was ever being truthful and questioning everything people said, it would take a huge amount of cognitive resources to really debate everything that anyone said to you.

You go to the corner store, you talk to the bus driver, you talk to your colleague at work. You could never believe anything. You would have to find out everything for yourself firsthand. You could never get something from someone else. It’s actually a fundamental rule of human communication. As a result we are not naturally programmed to go around trying to detect people all the time.

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