My 4-year-old recently called out to me that he was all dressed for school and going to play outside.
A moment later, I watched him appear outside the kitchen window and begin to happily blow bubbles — in his pajamas.
It can be alarming to parents when children begin telling lies like this (as well as humorous because they are so easily caught in their falsehoods). But in early childhood, lying reflects an important milestone in cognitive development.
When children start to lie, it means they understand that other people have different beliefs than they do. It means that they understand that people’s beliefs do not directly reflect reality, but vary based on experience.
When my 4-year-old told me that he was dressed, he realized that I couldn’t see him. He reasoned that I would form a belief based on what he told me, not on reality. He capitalized on this situation to try to instill in my mind a false belief (that he was ready to go) that served his goal (having time to play). This sophisticated understanding of how people’s minds work is the product of a fairly long developmental process.
Because they expect people’s minds to contain direct copies of reality, younger children do not even try to deceive. Playing hide-and-seek with a young 3-year-old will confirm that they simply do not yet understand the concept of deception — children of this age delight in telling the seeker exactly where they plan to “hide.”
– Marjorie Rhodes
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