Why kids lie—and why it's not always bad

The ability to craft a good fib is a developmental milestone for children.

Jamie Goldfarb had finished reading the last bedtime book to her three-year-old son, Kai, when he told her he was hungry. The mom from Takoma Park, Maryland, usually complied with such requests since Kai had difficulty feeding as a baby. But this time, as she headed downstairs to fetch a banana, she heard him say under his breath, “Now that’s how you get a fourth book.”

Goldfarb was stunned that her sweet toddler would tell her an outright lie, but experts would say that Kai was engaging in sophisticated cognitive reasoning in his successful attempt for extra storytime. And according to researchers, lying begins as soon as a child starts developing empathy, reasoning, and self-control.

When they’re about two years old, kids start developing a sense of self, recognizing that they’re independent from others. And that means they can start figuring out—and manipulating—human emotions. Experts call this “theory of mind”—the ability to act based on how you anticipate the beliefs, desires, and actions of others.

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