Hi there!

I'm Tracy 

I'm the founder, writer and advocate behind the award-winning blog, Raised Good - a guide to natural parenting in the modern world.

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Why I Was Happy When My Son Started Lying (and You Should Be Too)

When Pinocchio lied his nose grew and grew.

When the boy cried wolf eventually no one believed him.

Even our cherished folklore stories shame and scare children into telling the truth only when Pinocchio vowed to never lie again he was rewarded with becoming a real boy. 

When the wolf does arrive the flock is eaten all at the fault of the boy. 

These stories tell children if they lie things will go wrong, if they tell the truth they will be accepted with open arms. 

Children have internalised that lying is bad.

Telling the truth is good.

It’s black and white, either or. 

These well-loved fables and the mainstream parenting paradigm perpetuate this sense of shame for misleading others.

But what if learning to lie was a developmental milestone that meant our children were right on track? 

What if little white lies were a normal part of childhood?

What if we told children stories that showed them it was safe to tell the truth no matter what?

The development of lying

There is nothing more honest or direct than a toddler, who unashamedly points out your own and everyone else’s flaws.

What your 2-year-old sees, your 2-year-old says.

In the younger years, our children’s minds work on the assumption that what is in their minds is also in yours. They believe that everyone sees and interprets things the same way they do. Therefore to lie would be of no use to them. 

But then as they get a little older the following scenarios start to happen:

“Have you put your clothes on?”

“Yes, mum!”

Followed by your child strolling down the hallway in their pyjamas!

“I found all these candy wrappers under your bed, did you eat them all?”

“No, mum it wasn’t me!”

Despite the chocolate smeared across their faces.

They begin to lie. 

This development is usually shocking for parents who are suddenly left reeling from the fact their sweet and innocent child has just misled them in plain sight.

What these first lies signal is the end of their preschooler personality and the step over the threshold into the next stage of childhood.

Inside Their Developing Brains

The ability to contain and conceal one’s thoughts and feelings only emerges once children have cultivated a certain level of self control and the capacity to empathise with someone else’s inner thoughts and feelings. 

Around age 5-7 children begin to realise that the thoughts inside their own heads are different from those around them. This aligns with a period of brain development that occurs where they can begin holding two separate concepts at the same time. 

Developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, coined the phrase “5 to 7 year shift” to refer to the age when a young child’s brain begins to be able to mix conflicting thoughts and feelings. Developing the ability to mix opposing feelings is what puts the brakes on impulsive reactions.

They can feel excited for their sibling’s birthday party and jealous at the same time. 

They can feel sad that mum has to go to work and excited to go to school. 

Dr. Deborah MacNamara says, “when a child starts to experience internal conflict, their frustration will be tempered with caring, their fear with desire, and they will be able to consider someone else’s needs along with their own. You can witness this conflict first hand as they may shake and shudder but not erupt in the same uncivilised fashion. It is the capacity to experience mixed feelings that puts a standstill to the most impulsive ways of the preschooler. They will be able to think before they speak, and even keep a secret, as well as tell a real lie.”

Being able to see that other people think and understand things differently is an important part of social development; it is when the ability to interact with others becomes more complex and deeper. It is the point when our children start to connect more closely with their friends and people around them. 

It also enables our children to realise they can lie about eating a cookie when we weren’t looking, being the one who spilled the juice when our backs were turned, or that they didn’t just hit their sister while we were in the other room despite their sibling’s tears telling you otherwise. 

“The brain has grown out of its preschooler way of seeing the world. You have unlocked the door to so much potential for maturity:  he is sophisticated enough to conceal himself from you.” Dr Deborah MacNamara

Lying to stay connected

When kids make a mistake, they worry about letting us down or becoming disconnected from us, especially if our modus operandi is to dish out a punishment, like a time out. And so, to remain in our orbit, the easier choice may be to lie. And if we’re being honest…don’t we adults make this choice sometimes too? With our partners? Our colleagues?

Now, try to remember a time when you were a child and lied to your own parents – this shouldn’t be too hard because we’ve all done it!

Then ask yourself, what was the driving force behind telling a mistruth over choosing to admit whatever it was you were hiding? Or not sure about? Or worried about?

More often than not the answer lies in the fear of being cast aside, embarrassed or losing the favour of our parents.

Do you remember being caught in a lie? And if you were shamed for lying, what did it teach you?

Perhaps how to be a better liar next time. Perhaps to keep your secrets to yourself. Perhaps that the darkest sides of you weren’t acceptable and needed to be squashed right down where nobody could see.  

Dr. Gabor Maté talks about the tension that often exists between attachment and authenticity – two of a child’s most critical needs. If a child can’t have both authenticity and attachment at the same time – if they’re not accepted as their true authentic selves, they need to choose one. And every time they will choose to sacrifice their authentic selves in a bid to preserve their attachment needs. So if their attachment is at risk over a mistake they have made, naturally they will gravitate towards a lie. 

Children need their parents for survival and it is instinctual for them to maintain closeness and connection at all costs – even if sometimes this means being dishonest.

“When authenticity threatens attachment. Attachment trumps authenticity.”

Dr Gabor Maté

Creating Safety to Fulfil Attachment

As conscious parents, we choose to look beneath the behaviour to understand why our children are trying to hide things from us. Dr. Dan Siegel describes this ability as mindsight – our human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and others, to understand the inner lives of our children and why they’re doing the things they do. 

In her wonderful book Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (Or Anyone Who Acts Like One), Dr. Deborah McNamara reminds us the problem is not actually the lying.

“[They] know that lying is not okay – this is not the issue. [They] don’t want to reveal themselves to you – this is the issue.” Dr Deborah MacNamara

The antidote to lying Deborah tells us is “a desire to be known by your closest attachments.” What she means by this is that when our children feel safe enough in their relationship with us they can show up as their whole and authentic selves and thus see no need to lie or conceal the truth.

Whatever their current circumstance they know their relationship with us is a safe place, and they can take for granted the fact that we will be there to support them through anything. Deborah advocates for making the relationship between both you and your child safe enough that they feel they can share their hearts even when as Deborah says “they blow it!”

When we shame children for lying, when we shout or use attachment against them as punishment for being less than truthful, what we’re modelling is that we’re not a safe place for all their truths to land. We say to them that we will only accept you if you tell us a version of reality that aligns with our own. We communicate that our love for them is conditional. 

Instead, if we flip our view of what lying means and come to understand the reasons behind it we can support them in learning a vital lesson about what it means to be human. When we let our children know the push and pull they feel inside of them – of wanting to be known but not wanting to tell – is an integral part of all of us, we begin to create an atmosphere of safety. We turn them away from shame and towards acceptance of themselves in moments when they are simply being human.

As conscious parents, we need to nurture relationships with our kids that allow them to feel safe enough to express whatever is going on in their worlds. We need to turn away from judging, punishing, or blaming our kids when things, as they will and do, go wrong. 

By allowing our children real-world practice, through us, of how truth-telling builds trust and deepness in relationships they will come to seek relationships that provide the safety needed for truth and authenticity to flourish. By creating an environment where they can share and reveal the vulnerable parts of themselves we build within them a foundation for healthy future partnerships and friendships in their lives.

Imagine if all children felt safe enough to tell the truth

Imagine a world in which all children had a safe place to turn with whatever felt scary to them. 

Imagine those young people who have carried the darkest, heaviest, most traumatic secrets their entire lives – what may have been different if they had someone they knew was safe enough to share these things with? 

Picture a child who feels no need to lie because their parents accept them whatever happens in their lives, what would they look like?

Who would our children grow into if they had the freedom to share themselves exactly as they are without fear of punishment or disconnection from us?

They would become the most authentic and integrous version of themselves. 

The Truth About the Lies

Lying isn’t an intentional action by our children against us, they aren’t misbehaving or turning delinquent. What the emergence of lying means is: 

  • Our children have reached a critical stage in their brain development in which they realise their thoughts and feelings are distinctly separate from others.
  • They may be lying in a bid to preserve their closeness to us. It is their need to remain attached to us that has them choosing to sabotage their authenticity. 
  • They’re now able to hold two distinct feeling states internally at the same time. The desire to have the candy and knowing they aren’t allowed the candy!
  • They may be playing with a newly found skill…just like the first time they learn to walk or talk, this is new to them and it can be fun to play with (give them a little latitude to explore it and play with them).

As caregivers we have so much power in shaping our children for the world ahead – how we choose to respond is everything. If we choose disconnection and punishment, we’re setting our kids up for more deceit and abandonment of their authentic selves.

To help our kids naturally want to choose truth over falsehood we can do the following to make the environment safe enough for the following to happen:

  • For our children to know that making mistakes is an integral part of being human by turning away from disconnection and punishment and instead fostering a deeper connection to them when they inevitably mess up. 
  • Allowing them to apologise for mistakes and accepting these wholeheartedly. 
  • Apologise ourselves often and modelling that even as adults we don’t get everything right. 
  • Removing shame from our parenting toolbox and cultivating genuine compassion, curiosity and understanding for our kids as they navigate the complexities of the world and growing up. 
  • Never take lying personally! Get curious. Drop any judgment you may have.

Celebrate the Lies

Choosing to embrace things like lying is not easy work. It is soul-shifting, cycle-breaking work.

If you grew up in an environment where shame was used as a tool to pull the truth out of you, then rewriting that story with your own children takes deep awareness and inner work.

If you’re triggered by your children’s lies, go easy on yourself, most of us are. 

It is no wonder lying pushes our buttons given that in our generation lying was so unacceptable. The shame prescribed to us landed somewhere deep inside and it’s likely that you, like me, internalised the message that you were wrong or bad in some way for concealing the truth. 

It is monumentally worthwhile work to do, believe me. It isn’t just your child who will reap the benefits of changing this long held story, but you as well. 

When I realised my son was telling his first lie, internally, I celebrated. Why?  Because it meant he was growing, developing and maturing just as he should be. 

I messaged Deborah and we both shared a little moment of joy as we both understood he was not doing wrong, but growing just right. I’d love to invite you to do the same should you catch your child in the act of lying too. 

As parents, we can use these moments as the perfect opportunity to show our children how safe they truly are with us. To let them know that no matter what they do wrong, why they lie, or what they bring to us they are unconditionally loved and supported by us their parents.

That is the true meaning of unconditional love – there is nothing they can do to make us love them less.

Hi there!

I'm Tracy

Hi there! I’m Tracy - the founder, writer and advocate behind the award-winning blog, Raised Good - a guide to natural parenting in the modern world. Based in Vancouver and originally launched in 2016, I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response and the global community that’s developed. 

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