• Thu, Jul 28 2011

Smotherhood: My Daughter Is A Pathological Liar And I’m Ignoring It

My three-year-old daughter’s pants are permanently on fire. She lies non-stop, often for no obvious reason, about pretty much everything. She lies with abandon, about things that are easy to disprove and are sometimes important to her health, such as whether or not she’s washed her hands after using the bathroom. The more emphatic she is about something, the more certain I am that it’s a fib.

And lately — disturbingly — she’s been lying about other kids’ activities. “Drew-Drew punched me in the head,” she’ll report to me on the way home from daycare. “Drew-Drew bited me, and pushed me.” This is highly improbable, seeing as Drew-Drew is a two-year-old she could overpower with her little finger.

She lies about her brother, whose splutters of outraged disbelief at being falsely accused — “What?!? Alice is LYING!!!!!” — are a study in righteous indignation.

It appears to be a case of rapid-onset mendacity. Mere weeks ago it never would have occurred to her to fib, and now it’s as natural as breathing. In the space of a few days I went from believing everything that came out of her mouth to questioning it. Does she really need to go to the washroom again before bed or is she just stalling? (“I think I’ll save my poo for later,” she’ll say, blinking up at me innocently well past her bedtime. How does she know this is one bluff I’m not likely to call?)

The experts assure me there’s nothing to worry about; in fact, one study found that the complex brain processes involved in telling a lie are an indicator of a child’s early intelligence. According to the study’s author, Dr. Kang Lee of the Institute of Child Study at University of Toronto, “Parents should not be alarmed…. Their children are not going to turn out to be pathological liars. It is a sign that they have reached a new developmental milestone.”

Want more reassurance? “They even make bankers later in life,” Lee said. (It’s impossible to tell if he delivered this news with a straight face.)

What should parents do? Nothing, is the consensus, other than ignoring it where possible and daily reinforcing the potential consequences of dishonesty.

Researchers group lies according to their motives: those that are pro-social (“white” lies to protect others’ feelings); for self-enhancement (lies that save face or avoid punishment); selfish lies (those that protect oneself at someone else’s expense); and those that are anti-social (deliberately harmful).
The bad news is that kids lie increasingly as they get older. The heartening news is that overwhelmingly, those lies tend to be pro-social, which they clearly learn from adults who routinely skate over “truth” in their everyday interactions.

On balance, I would say my daughter’s lies mostly fit into the second category of self-enhancement. Though now that I think about it, she’s shown a talent for manipulation since she was two. “Mama, I love your pretty earrings,” she’d coo while stroking my hair. Then: “Can I watch Dora before bed?”

I have a suspicion my daughter might just have a future in finance.

(Photo: Ryan McVay)

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