How NOT to fight child deception and lies

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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None of the parents will be happy to know that his or her favourite son or daughter used to lie. Professor Alexander Savenkov, Head of the Institute of Pedagogy and Psychology of Education at Moscow City University, an expert on child giftedness, tells why people lie from the cradle and what mothers and fathers should do about it.

New Delhi, 22nd November 2022: What is similar between a candidate applying for a job, a student trying to avoid a bad mark at school and a baby crying in its bed? They are all deceptive! The potential employee uses all the rules of PR technology to embellish his resume, the schoolboy makes up an incredible story about missing homework, and the baby manipulates his mother, knowing that she will come quickly if one hears the screaming.

If everyone lies, why should parents condemn their children for the same actions?

Professor Alexander Savenkov, Head of the Institute of Pedagogy and Psychology of Education at Moscow City University, Doctor of Pedagogical and Psychological Sciences, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Education, and expert on child giftedness, spoke about the nature of child lies and whether it should be combated.

Can an infant cheat?

Research shows that even the youngest babies are capable of deception – a major technique in manipulation. Imagine a tiny baby lying in its cot or “walking” in its playpen. Mum tries to leave it for a short time, but the infant starts screaming loudly. Mum drops everything and rushes back to the baby (maybe he is in pain, maybe he is cold, maybe he is hot, who knows what could be bothering him…). She fixes his clothes, gives him a kiss… and gently returns him to the cot. Quite quickly, as a result of several such operations, a cause-and-effect relationship will form in his head – if he cries out as hard as he can, his mother will be there… This is the simplest example of a baby who cannot talk, deceiving his mother by manipulating her behaviour.

When lies appear

Around the age of two, a child’s first attempts at symbolic reasoning show up, indicated by the ability to assign new, often unexpected properties to everyday objects in play: teddy bears start talking, cars fly, the bed becomes a hut. Most children show clear signs of attempting to lie around the age of 3 or 4. At this age, the child is able to recognise that lying can make their life a little more comfortable. They will learn to recognise the lies of others later in life.

Why does a child lie?

The reasons why children and adults lie are very similar, and experts identify five reasons:

– To make a positive impression on others or to protect themselves from the embarrassment and disapproval of others;

– To gain an advantage;

– To avoid punishment;

– To help others;

– To maintain social relationships.

A child has all of these things, but more often he or she just wants to believe what he or she wants. Children willingly accept their imagination as a reality. There is another observation: Canadian psychologists studying the lying habits of 3-4-year-olds living in West Africa have found a pattern: children lie more often if they fear punishment, are humiliated or are reprimanded.

How to teach a child to tell only the truth, and should you?

Children’s lies require sensitivity from adults and in the right hands, it can work as a very effective parenting tool. For example, a child can be praised for admitting mistakes, so in the future, he or she will increasingly choose to tell the truth. The family atmosphere should be comfortable for the child’s psyche so that the child is not afraid of shouting or punishment. It is better to forgive lying preschool children: they start to have little secrets and may lie accidentally or as a joke.

Countries failing to prevent violence against children, agencies warn
Countries failing to prevent violence against children, agencies warn

Of course, there is no reason to support and encourage deliberate attempts at child deception. And as we have already identified, children are not only able to lie unintentionally, they are often quite adept at manipulating peers. During combating child lies and manipulation attempts, adults should always remember that the child lives simultaneously in the world of reality and the imaginary space of their games and fantasies. Therefore children’s lies are usually harmless and unintentional. Shouting and harsh punishments reduce creativity and damage their psyche and cognitive abilities.

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