My Toddler Told Her First Lie

Not long ago, an adorable video of a little boy telling his mother repeatedly that he had not gotten into a certain container of red candy sprinkles, all while wearing the telltale sprinkles all over his face, went viral. The video is funny as can be, and as a parent, it would be difficult not to laugh. However, it did strike me at the time that the toddler was awfully young to have already started lying.

Or so I thought.

Cut to a few months later, when I experienced a very similar moment with my own toddler. I had given her a little cup of pretzel goldfish as a snack. I stepped away for a few moments; when I returned, the cup was on the floor and the pretzels were scattered all about. I asked our little girl what had happened, and she looked me in the eye, turned her palms upward, cocked her head to the side, and shrugged her shoulders, the universal gesture for "I don't know."

More from The Stir: Cute Boy Lies to Get a Donut (VIDEO)

First, I had never seen her make this gesture, and it was ridiculously cute, especially coming from an 18-month-old. The corners of my mouth twitched and I started to smile, and then it occurred to me that my baby girl may have just told me her first lie.

Now, I lied my ass off to my parents for years, so having my own child lie to me is probably my karma. However, I typically lied so that I would not get in trouble. Our little girl had never actually gotten into trouble (although she had been told that food is not to be thrown on the floor). Nonetheless, we had never had cause to discipline her, so I would not think she would instinctively be trying to protect herself. I was puzzled and curious.

I conferred with a good friend of ours who happens to be a body language expert, analyzing everyone from potential criminals as a consultant for law enforcement to admitted fibbers like Lance Armstrong. When I described to him what our daughter had done, he said, "Oh yeah, she was totally lying ... get used to it." Our baby girl, lying!

Now, of course, because she couldn't yet really talk, there's a chance she might simply have been telling me, non-verbally, that she didn't know how she managed to spill the pretzels. But it begged the question, when do children begin to lie, and how do they learn this behavior?

In researching this subject, I learned that children typically start experimenting with lying pretty early, around the age of 2. Oftentimes, the lying is fantastical, such as telling wild stories about a furry pink rhinoceros who came into the child's room after everyone was asleep. Other times, it's to avoid getting into trouble, as with the red candy sprinkles. And even other times, it's because of an insecurity or embarrassment, like lying about friendships, popularity, homework, or grades.

At any rate, it's clear that the capacity to lie is part of our DNA as humans. The question is, how do we handle it when it comes from our own children?

I polled some of my mom friends, and one of my closest friends -- a mother of three young girls -- had my favorite answer. She said that when she knew one of her children was lying to her, she would look her deeply and earnestly in the eye and ask, "Are you telling the truth in your heart?" Invariably, the child would 'fess up, and the lies were never really harmful, coming from such young children.

The key, I guess, is learning your child's "tells," much like my friend the body language expert. That way, as your child gets older, you'll be better able to tell when he or she is not being honest. 

At least I hope so.

Until then, I'm just going to do whatever I can to instill honesty in our young girl, and I know that includes our being honest with her as much as possible as her parents. Because we all know our kids see and hear everything, and pick up more than we will ever know.

As one of my mentors used to always say, having learned it from one of his mentors, "When all else fails, try the truth."

So I want to know: Have your kids lied to you? How did you handle it?

Image via Joanna Montgomery

language, toddler development


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My kids lied all the time. I handled it was anguish, amazement, anger, embarassment, skepticism, hurt, and laughter.

I only had two kids...and when things were broken in the house (or something went wrong) and they were the only ones in the house other than myself, I would asked who did it?  Their answer was "I don't know" and "Not me."   My counter answer was "When I find out where Not-Me & I-Don't-Know lives, I am gonna beat their ass!" 

When I got a cat and because I did not have restrictions on the computer, mysterious porn popped up in the history...once again, I was given looks of innocence and wonderment of how that got on the computer...Soooo, I told them the next time they see the cat, tell her she is grounded and to keep her ass off the porn websites (then I put restrictions on it too)--my poor cat had issues.


nonmember avatar steph

My husbands kids lie all day long and they don't care one bit either. They make me sick.

MrsRo... MrsRoberts413

My dad always told us "If you do something wrong, you're in trouble once.  If you lie about it, now you've done a second thing wrong, so you're in trouble twice.  You will always get in less trouble for being honest!" and he made good on that promise.  No matter what we'd done, if we 'fessed up and didn't try to lie about it, we usually suffered a logical consequence or a much lighter punishment than if we had lied.  I'm now a teacher, and I have the same policy with my students! 

Pixie030 Pixie030

I also believe in either longer or harsher punishments if I know my kids have lied to me about something. And my boys ages 3 and 5, especially the five year old will lie straight to my face.. and does the whole "I don't know" when he clearly was the one who did something so I know he is lying about it. It has also been said that a person sometimes uses a higher pitched voice when lying which is something my oldest seems to do also.. If I can tell he is lying before he even gets his full sentence out I will stop him with saying NO to cut him off from the lie and repeat my question to him.. and will continue the NO and repeating the question until he tells me the truth or he gets sent to the corner for not telling the truth.

ErinandCole Sheppard

My 5 and 6 year old daughters are constantly trying to lie. I have tried the whole if you lie, now you've done two things wrong. But I do like the "Truth from your heart" idea, as they are typical girls <3

Oh and if I stop my 5YO like Pixie030, she then clams up and refuses to speak.

Well plyed Karma, well played.

craft... craftycatVT

When my daughter was a toddler she'd suddenly say things like, "Mommy, I didn't fart." I just had to laugh at her obvious denial!

Susan Delly

That doesn't really sounds like a lie, yet... I'd go more with 'she didn't know how she managed to spill the pretzels.'

nonmember avatar Joanne

My children grew up knowing that everyone found it hard to tell the truth sometimes, so we always get a chance to "take it back" on the same day, to then tell the truth, with no adverse consequence attached. The only time they needed to worry about being punished for a lie, was if they chose not to "take it back" that same day. Many a lie was taken back at bed time in our home. :)

nonmember avatar keri

My 2 year old doesn't lie yet. He just ignores me if he doesn't want to answer me. Unless you count him yelling no when I ask him if he wants something when he really does want it.

hexxuss hexxuss

I can normally tell when my son is lying, and he knows that if he gets caught, the punishment is twice as bad as telling the truth.  For example instead of missing his 1 hour of video game time for the day, he may lose it for 2-3.  The truth usually comes out. ;-)

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