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Why do children lie?

NQS 1.1.6 Each child’s agency is promoted, enabling them to make choices and decisions and influence events in their world.

Have you ever wondered why children lie, especially when it’s obvious they’re lying? At about age 3, children begin to realise adults can’t always read their minds, and that they can (or think they can) lie without being detected. By age 4, a child will lie about once every 2 hours and by age 6, it’s once every 90 minutes. At the same time children learn to lie, they are also developing skills scientists call “Theory of Mind skills”. This means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, empathising with them or understanding what they might be thinking.  This is why children get better at lying as they get older.

Hemingway relied on the ability of people to use these skills when he wrote his favourite novel which, amazingly, was only 6 words long.

For sale: Baby shoes. Never used.

What do you feel and understand when you read those words? Sadness? Loss?

John Medina is his book Brain Rules for Baby says babies are born with a sense of right and wrong but they learn from undesirable behaviours around them as they grow up. One of the goals of educators and parents is to help the child align their behaviour with the sense of right and wrong they already have. This takes a lot of time and several steps. Children can’t usually do this all by themselves.

Firstly, children will do things mostly to avoid punishment. Then they begin to consider the social consequences of their behaviour. Eventually, a child begins to behave on objective moral principles. These stages reflect Kohlberg’s theory about the moral development of children.

How do you teach children to do the right thing?

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