Study: Lying in kids is a sign of intelligence

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It's funny when you first see your child try to pull a fast one to get out of trouble. But it can be worrying if they keep on lying. However, research shows that your child might actually be really smart BECAUSE of the lies!

“Mummy, he broke your favourite cup (pointing at didi). You know your daughter broke it because you saw it happening with your own eyes. So why did she lie? In fact, many kids lie a fair bit – sometimes little white lies, other times, big fat lies. Does this mean your child will grow up to be a compulsive liar? Stop worrying mums and dads! New research shows that lying in kids could actually be a sign of intelligence! 

Lying as a Sign of Intelligence: When Do Kids Start Lying and Why?

when do kids start lying

When do kids start lying? Should you be worried about it?

A slew of research has shown that it’s quite normal for children to lie, and even points towards signs of higher intelligence. 

Dr Michael Lewis spent a lot of time researching the phenomenon of not telling the truth. He discovered many interesting things including when do kids start lying and why.

They reveal that children start lying as early as two years old when they’re just about learning to speak. It’s a powerful and sophisticated social skill that helps children learn more about the world, and can be used in four main ways: lying to protect others, avoid punishment, to deceive themselves and to hurt others.

1. Lying to Protect Others

when do kids start lying

Sometimes, a child doesn’t know how to tell you the truth because they worry you can’t handle it.

Kids are so innocent in nature. They will go as far as lying to protect your feelings when you get them the wrong ice cream flavour and they see the stressed look on your face. All is made well by saying “It’s OK, it’s what I wanted.”

This type of lying is socially adaptive and shows emotional intelligence. But it seems girls are better at this than boys.

In Lewis’ experiment where children were rewarded with a toy that they said they liked the least from a selection, boys struggled to hide their disappointment. Older children showed better ability to show positive reactions when unexpected results came up. Even kids as young as four could show this ability!

If you see your child “lying” like this, it’s a good sign that they can think about other people’s feelings!

2. Lying to Avoid Punishment

when do kids start lying

Children might start pointing the blame at others to avoid getting punished.

In his research, Lewis gave children instructions to not peek at a toy that is placed directly behind them, with the assurance that they will play with it afterwards.

Most of the children peeked, but 60% didn’t own up to it or intentionally lied. The experiment actually brings up two core facets of intelligence – the ability to delay gratification (peeking) and how to cover their tracks (lying).

Children more likely to lie also showed they had higher IQ by 10 points compared to truth-tellers. And the likelihood of telling white lies increases with age!

3. Self-Deception

when do kids start lying

Sometimes, they want to save face. Kids already understand the concept of street cred from young, you know!

From as young as two years old, kids lie to “save face”.
 
Imagine your daughter runs over to go on the slide, and a boy pushes her out of his way, claiming he came first. Some kids might burst into tears. But your daughter gets up, and says “Meh, I didn’t want to play on that anyway.”
 
She’s saving face so she can exit the scene with dignity. 

4. Hurting Others

when do kids start lying

When working through this with your kids, remember not to go overboard! Everyone is still learning.

Of all the forms of lying, this is the only one that directly harms someone else. It’s a lot less common but it usually indicates a more serious issue. Children might be doing this in part to avoid punishment by deflecting blame onto others.

Lewis’ research has shown lying is a way for kids to adapt to different situations, so lying to intentionally hurt someone else still reflects that the child has an agenda. It’s important to tell your child of the consequences of this type of lying, and that it’s not right to blame someone else for something they did not do. 

Other Ways to Nurture Intelligence in Your Child

As you can see, lying is a way of developing social skills and emotional intelligence! They learn about goals and how to achieve them, as well as the dynamics of relationships.

There are many other ways to encourage your child to become smarter before they learn to talk and develop the ability to lie!

Engaging in these simple activities and involving your children from very young could have long-lasting benefits to their intelligence!

In the womb:

  • Talk to your developing baby
  • Improve your diet to include Omaga-3 fatty acids
  • Exercise (seek medical advice first)

Infancy (0-6 months)

  • Make eye contact
  • Sing to your baby
  • Breastfeed

Six months onwards (Toddler territory)

  • Have some storytime before bed
  • Take your baby shopping
  • Play peek-a-boo
Don’t be alarmed when your child lies, but know how to handle it at the same time. When do kids start lying? When they have learnt a skill set to help them navigate the world and interact with it!
 
 
 
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