When do kids understand lying? — The Bump
Pre-School

When do kids understand lying?

My daughter is 3.5 (will be 4 in June) and has been lying a lot lately. Not about anything serious, but about things like what she ate for lunch, or if she washed her hands after she went potty. It's usually things I already know the answer to (I pack her lunch for school, and I can hear the water running), I will question her, she will tell me something (not the right answer) and I will ask her again. Sometimes I will ask if she's telling the truth, or a story, or lying (some version), or I will say I already know, or I can call Grandma and ask and she will hold out for a while. Is she too young to understand the concept of truth?

Another side- Saturday she had to wait on DH to play with her and I heard her in the hall say "I don't love daddy anymore" so I told her to come talk to us and she of course lied about it. I knew she was lying because she was scared to get in trouble that time, and tried to explain she would be in less trouble if she told me the truth. But I think that went over her head too...

Is she too young to grasp these concepts? She's such a smart kid, and she is very intuitive but I don't know at what point the intangible concepts start to make sense.  

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Re: When do kids understand lying?

  • DS just turned 3. Telling "fibs" is very common for this age. The line of fantasy and reality is blurred. They have make believe friends etc. DS is always telling us to watch out for the lady bugs and grasshoppers, when clearly there are none. He'll even point to exactly where they are since we can't see them. One day, I was laying down and DS jumped right on me. When I asked why he did it he claimed he didn't jump on me, when I said who did then, he blamed our dog. Sometimes they tell fibs about things like what they did at school or what they ate for lunch because they can't remember.
    I think by 3 and 4 they can begin to understand the difference between truth and lies. They probably won't totally understand but it's good to continue to reinforce when telling the truth is important. Really though, if you already know the answer and it's not that important, let her have her make believe
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  • Thanks for your reply- makes me feel better that it's not a serious issue. I'm more concerned when she tells me things like "I didn't get a snack at aftercare today" (afternoon snack) which makes my heart hurt thinking she went hungry. I have no reason to think that she wouldn't have had a snack and she's usually just saying that to get an extra snack before dinner, but when it comes to necessities (food/water) I can't bare to think she's actually hungry... 
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  • Thanks for this post. I was wondering the same thing. James tells lies all the time but it isn't even for things where a lie benefits him. Like yours, I ask what did you have for lunch and he says spaghetti. I know he had a sandwich. I don't know what the best way to call him out on it or teach him that he should't make things up. They're not really punishable, but how do you teach them other than explaining over and over that what they said is not true? 
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  • My DS is 4.5 and he tells fibs and also tells us that he doesn't love people. Mostly we ignore the fibs when we can and when we can't (about serious things) we discuss it with him and give examples of why it's not okay to lie, but it's okay to let people know that you are telling a story beforehand. DS is starting to understand that it's hurtful to say that you don't love someone b/c DD is starting to do it to him. We talk A LOT about how he is teaching his sister with everything he does.
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