Gina Columbus, Asbury Park Press
When Roseann Bandl sees her 6-year-old son, Tony, run past her after using the bathroom without looking at her, she knows he didn't follow the rule.
"Did you wash your hands?" she asks him, knowing she never heard the water run.
Bandl, of Farmingdale, says she always knows the truth just by the look on Tony's face.
Though children may not think they're doing anything wrong, more than one-third of 3-year-olds lie, based on research led by Victoria Talwar, an associate professor of developmental psychology at McGill University in Montreal. By the time they are 4 to 7, half of the tykes lie.
Truth is that lying is part of childhood development since children are learning to think independently, local experts say. But some parents don't know how to detect deceit in their children or correct it, these experts say.
"The first successful lie can be pegged a developmental achievement because it marks the child's discovery that their mind and thinking are separate from their parents," says Shari Carpman, a licensed professional counselor in Freehold Township.
At age 3, children are able to say something that's a "non-truth," Carpman says, and magical thinking begins to take flight.
"Like invisible friends," says Carpman, 52. "They'll embellish a story to fit the ideas in their heads. So it's not the lying that we know, but it's more about their magical thinking. They're not using the embellishment to deceive, just to match what's in their head to express that."
Bandl, who has two other children, ages 12 and 17, remembers one of her son's fascination with dinosaurs - and kept an imaginary one named "O" close by.
"A couple of times, if something happened, he would say O did it," Bandl says.
Issy Horowitz, director at The Learning Experience in Freehold, sees that at the day care center and says early on, the lies are mostly harmless and are an expression of their imagination.
"When asking a 3-year-old what happened to his shirt, we have encountered responses such as 'A monster came and took it,' or that a friend needed a shirt so they gave it to them," Horowitz says.
But at such a young age, Carpman calls children very poor liars.
By age 4, children know the difference between telling the truth and lying - and know it's wrong.
By 6 to 8, a more sophisticated level of lying emerges, Carpman says. Even teenagers, she says, don't often lie because they're doing something wrong -it's to protect their privacy.
Justin Kahn, 31, is a student assistant counselor and anti-bullying specialist at Point Pleasant Memorial Middle School. He also has an Allentown practice.
The reason little ones lie, he says, is because it's a survival skill for children.
"They want to stay out of trouble, but they don't feel as if they're hurting anybody else from doing it," Kahn says.
In addition, children lie to avoid disappointing parents, make themselves appear better than their peers, and avoid following rules and expectations, Carpman says.
Just a little white lieBandl, the Farmingdale mom, sees the lying as normal.
"They're testing boundaries to see if they can get away with it. Sometimes you never find out who did what," she says.
And according to Kahn, students lie about many things in school - from shoving others to using foul language, homework issues, texting in class or drug use.
However, parents unknowingly set the stage for lying.
"Hearing your child say 'That's an ugly dress' to someone or 'I don't like that food' ... as adults, we tell them, 'Don't say that,' so inadvertently we teach our kids to tell white lies," Carpman says.
Kahn says parents might simply be oblivious to their own behavior. He also thinks having divorced parents allows children to lie more than ones who are married.
"In my opinion, if a single parent is working around the clock, the relationship they have with their kids becomes nonexistent. It makes it very easy for kids to do things like lie," he says.
Stopping the lies
Bandl says sometimes a mother just knows when her child is lying.
"For me, you didn't hear the water go on, and they just run past you without looking at you. And when you ask them about it, you can just see that look in their eye that they're not telling the truth," she says.
As early as possible, parents should address lying as poor behavior, Kahn says, and teach them the difference between white lies and lies that can hurt others.
Aside from encouraging kids not to fib, Kahn says parents can model behavior.
"A lot of parents lie, and children are a lot smarter than parents think they are," he says.
Carpman adds that having your kids lie for you is an even greater issue.
"When the doorbell rings and you tell your kid, 'Tell them I'm not home,' that's a lie."
An interesting method that teaches children is reading them "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," Carpman says, allowing them to see how lying affects them and how it affects others.
Both counselors also see it important to establish a trusting relationship between parents and children. They suggest parents ask children why they did something, rather than if they did.
"If you know they're lying about something, confront them in a very helpful way," Carpman says.
She offers an easy suggestion. Instead of asking, 'Did you clean up your room?' say, 'So I see you didn't get a chance to clean up your room. How can I help you make some time to clean and then go out with your friends?' "
"Now they know they're already caught and need to explain themselves," Kahn says.
To punish, or not?
Instead of punishing your child for lying, teach them the consequences of lying, experts suggest.
"Lying is a defensive behavior, and by punishing them you're making it even more of a defensive situation which would just increase the lying," Carpman says.
The goal is to discipline the child by teaching them the effects of lying and how it can negatively affect them.
But Carpman insists parents need to ask themselves what they are doing wrong to make their children not tell them the truth.
"What's the reason my child is lying? What's under the lie?" Carpman suggests.
Carpman used the example of a child lying about finishing their homework.
"Instead of locking them in a room with no television...allowing them to go to school and face the consequence of not doing their homework will more likely prevent them from lying in the future," Carpman says.
Asbury Park Press