How We Learn to Lie:
How We Learn to Lie:
Parents care about their children. After all, they are helpless beings from the get go. We need to make sure that they are fed, clothed, and kept warm. It is hard to be overprotective when dealing with a young child.
On the other hand, children need to become independent. Research has an interesting thing to tell us. According to Margaret Mahler, the first steps of a toddler are AWAY from her mother! Kids have egos too…and need to assert themselves, even with parents staring over their shoulders.
So, how do you break free when you are little and a parent supervises without stop? Two strategies work, and often continue onto adulthood.
When Children Lie:
Let’s consider one of Bill Cosby’s classic routines: He tells of a moment when he happens upon his youngest daughter, who has her hand in the proverbial cookie jar. Cosby’s caught this kid red handed. Nothing is said. They stare at each other for awhile. Then, as if caught by surprise, this smart little girl takes her hand out with a cookie and hands it to her Daddy adding, "This is for you" —which of course is a lie.
Lying establishes secrets because you can't have a secret without lying. The two go hand-in-hand. Children keep secrets to have something special for themselves. Mommy and Daddy don't know about the candy that Timothy had before dinner. Or that he lied about brushing his teeth before going to bed. Lying is a form of power. It is a form of individuation. And, for young children, it’s healthy and normal.
Imaginary friends are a popular secret kept from parents. You'll find your child talking out loud to thin air playing dress up or house. And when you invade this world and try to find out what she's up to, she'll decline to tell you the truth and quickly say, "Nothing."
The Secret Life of a Parent:
Parents also keep secrets from their children. They talk about things children don't know about - money, sex, or even about the children themselves.
Plus, parents have a secret life behind the closed door of their bedroom. Whatever strange sounds seep out only add to the secrets of that space. Kids are not allowed. And, they can only guess what’s going on.
The news here is that the world of secrets is not inherently problematic. Children keep secrets, and parents do as well. But when secrets become a destructive part of adult life, they can lead to dangerous double lives.
Lying must abate. And, it does for most children. We would not have civilization without this accomplishment.
The Development of Integrity:
Naturally, a child’s mind matures. She reaches the grade school years and appreciates the need for fairness and truth in this world. She develops the hard won capacity to self express and her parents value her sense of right and wrong. They encourage their emerging citizen to express herself. Lying becomes a taboo…an antiquated and immature relic of her past.
This is what happens in normal development. What is required is a fertile mind, loving parents and good modeling. Citizenry starts with the school age child. And, our collective belief in justice and fairness extends to adult life.
It is a sad thing when something goes wrong.
Some kids never give up the power of lying.
Ode to Lying:
There is a place for lying in this world. In fact, it is developmentally normal for a preschool child. It kicks up again in adolescence. But, it should fade as a habit as a child matures and becomes more confident of himself and his standards.
Yet, life is not so simple. Lying does sometimes serve a purpose when balanced against other values that really count to you. And, occasionally withholding a truth is a kindness. Do you really want to tell your son that he lacks any ability to sing? Who knows, he may surprise you. Lying is one value among many. But, if it becomes habit, then we have a problem.
In coming posts, we’ll look at lying in relationships and elsewhere. Lying can lead to secrets. And, secrets can lead to troubles.
Yet, without those first lies, we would not be who we are.
And, for that, lying deserves praise.
For more from Dr. Banschick:
The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Kindle)
The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Amazon)
The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Yourself (Kindle)
The Intelligent Divorce- Taking Care of Yourself (Amazon)
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