“No, Mom, your spaghetti sauce is the best. The carrots add a really cool flavor.”
“No, honey, those pants don’t make you look fat.”
“Is there a problem, Officer?”
Let’s face it – we all lie. And while, for most of us, the lies we tell are told mostly to protect the feelings of others, there’s that moment for all parents when you’ve caught your kid in their first big lie, when you get this stomach cramp like somebody just splattered mud on your little angel’s halo.
For me, the first big one was a couple of years ago. For whatever reason, my daughter hates washing her hair (quite possibly because she has so much of it). But off she’d go, dutifully told to jump in the shower and wash her hair. She emerged about a half hour later with a towel draped around her and nearly bone-dry hair except for the very last inch.
“What happened to the ‘washing your hair’ part?,” I asked.
She didn’t even flinch.
“I did wash my hair, Daddy,” she said flatly.
“Then why isn’t your hair wet?”
Again, no flinch. Merely a look that suggested I should already know the answer to this. “Well I didn’t use water, I just put the shampoo in by itself,” she blurted.
I walk over and gently grab a handful of hair. Sniff, sniff. “Funny,” I noted, “it doesn’t smell like shampoo.”
And then, it happened. “That’s because I did a great job rinsing it out.” Even as the words were coming out of her mouth, she realized she’d blown it.
Predictably, it was a big deal. The ensuing interrogation had everything but the wooden chair and the single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Now, though, there’s ample evidence that I may have blown it. According to a new study, she’s probably been lying since the age of two.
The new study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology and co-authored by Brock University psychologist Angela Evans and University of Toronto researcher Kang Lee, reveals that in an experiment involving peeking at a toy they weren’t supposed to see, 25 per cent of two year olds lied about sneaking a peek. That number jumped to 50 per cent among three year olds, and 80 per cent of the four year olds.
In an interview on CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks that ran over the weekend, Evans said, “those children who are telling the lies are more cognitively advanced.”
And when you think about it, although that answer isn’t necessarily as heartwarming as some of your child’s cognitive advancements, there is a certain amount of thinking involved for a two year old to come up with an alternate version of reality. You might even go as far as to say that in the same way we lie to our relatives about how much we enjoy spending time with them, a two year-old might lie to cushion the blow of disappointment when they’ve done something they shouldn’t.
My reaction to my daughter’s hair-raising fib might have done more harm than good; instead of seizing an opportunity to have a good discussion about right and wrong, I became more interested in the “guilt and punishment” phase. The subconscious lesson I probably taught her was that it’s whether or not you get caught that matters.