Whether lying about raiding the biscuit tin or denying they broke a toy, all children try to mislead their parents at some time. Yet it now appears that babies learn to deceive from a far younger age than anyone previously suspected.
Behavioural experts have found that infants begin to lie from as young as six months. Simple fibs help to train them for more complex deceptions in later life.
Until now, psychologists had thought the developing brains were not capable of the difficult art of lying until four years old.
Really! And they researched this with ACTUAL children and parents!
Following studies of more than 50 children and interviews with parents, Dr Vasudevi Reddy, of the University of Portsmouth's psychology department, says she has identified seven categories of deception used between six months and three-years-old.
Infants quickly learnt that using tactics such as fake crying and pretend laughing could win them attention. By eight months, more difficult deceptions became apparent, such as concealing forbidden activities or trying to distract parents' attention.
By the age of two, toddlers could use far more devious techniques, such as bluffing when threatened with a punishment.
Dr Reddy said: "Fake crying is one of the earliest forms of deception to emerge, and infants use it to get attention even though nothing is wrong. You can tell, as they will then pause while they wait to hear if their mother is responding, before crying again.
"It demonstrates they're clearly able to distinguish that what they are doing will have an effect. This is essentially all adults do when they tell lies, except in adults it becomes more morally loaded."
Come on! Did it really take a Psychologists' Full Employment Act to discover that your two-year-old is capable of deception?
I saw this, by the way, on Brandon Dutcher's blog, where he noted that it is no surprise to those of us who believe in original sin. And while I completely agree that a child younger than four can (and does!) sin and that the behaviors discussed in this article may well be rebellious and sinful, I'm also reminded of my years-long observations that there are other reasons for a very young child to deceive. It's hinted at here in the very sentence of the article:
Dr Reddy thinks children use early fibs to discover what kinds of lie work in certain situations, and also learn the negative consequences of lying too much.We need to be on the lookout for deceitfulness and dishonesty in our little ones. But we need to be alert, too, for their motivations. Sometimes a toddler is going to be deceitful for other reasons than just a rebellious heart or a manipulative streak. There are times when a very young child uses these behaviors as a way to discover more about his surroundings, his parents, or his siblings. The little one is trying to answer questions for himself such as, "If I say I didn't do it even though I did, what happens? Will anyone know? Will my mom still love me? Will my sister get in trouble? Will I be struck dead?" These questions may often be mixed in with other selfish motives, but the fact remains that the only way a toddler can get those questions answered is to act out the behavior he's wondering about. He can't exactly say, "Mom, just theoretically, if I were to break a window and then tell you I didn't do it, what would happen?" Part of early misbehavior is a finding out where the boundaries are and what happens when they're crossed.
Those of you who know me know I'm not using this as an excuse for sin or bad behavior. Just the opposite--I want us to recognize when this is happening and give the child swift and memorable answers to what happens when he lies so he's trained early to tell the truth! But recognizing the child's quest for those answers will help us answer our own inevitable question: "Why in the world would this baby lie to me?"
(Feel free to chime in here if you disagree with me!)