It started as a simple conversation at dinner. We usually go around the table, and each person talks about their day. The 2-year-old always wants to go first, refuses to take questions, but just enjoys everyone looking at her. (“I’m not DONE YET!” is a familiar screech.)
The 7-year-old talked fondly of the science experiment in her desk, a mealworm named Squirmy who was getting ready to turn into a beetle. Then it got to 5-year-old Josh, who regaled us with stories of Star Wars reenactments on the playground and a secret reader in class.
After a few questions, I wrapped up with:
“Did you buy your milk ok today?”
Every once in a while, Josh likes to buy milk at the school cafeteria to go with his lunch from home. Fine, I say. A break from the juice box. But the rule is, you buy white milk. Not chocolate. Because that’s dessert in a carton. And I already packed dessert. And we don’t usually drink chocolate milk.
“Yep, I bought milk,” he said with a weird look on his face.
I know that look. I’m not a poker player and I know that look.
“You did?” I probed.
“Yep.” He said. Super weird look now.
The mother’s intuition alarm bell started clanging.
“Um, yes white milk.”
“You had chocolate milk,” I say.
“No I DIDN’T!” He insisted.
Which meant he did. All I did was look at him and he caved.
“Well, I maybe had chocolate milk,” he confessed.
Then it hit me. He lied. WHY? I had that sick feeling of if-he’s-lying-about-milk-then-what-ELSE-is-he-lying-about? Why lie about milk?! What does it mean?? WHAT HAVE I DONE! So I did what any rational (neurotic) parent would do. First, I lectured the liar about telling the truth, trust issues and chocolate milk nutrition facts. Then ran straight to the computer to Google “kids and lying”.
First, I found many message boards with parents wondering why their 17-year-old lied about skipping school, stealing $300 and drinking beer. Shaky with thoughts of my 5-year old landing behind bars from a life of lying and stealing, I stumbled upon this article from the Wall Street Journal. I was surprised to find out that lying at age 5 doesn’t really mean much – but it’s actually a good sign. Researchers say “The fact that their children tell lies is a sign that they have reached a new developmental milestone.”
Milestone! Sounds impressive. In fact, the study says kids with better cognitive abilities actually lie more. Because when you lie, you’ve gotta keep your story straight while knowing the truth. And that makes your brain fire up in high functioning ways. Hmm. I don’t think I’ll be touting my son’s newly found fibbing skills any time soon. And certainly I’ll have to repeatedly stress that lying is not tolerated in our house.
Oh, and he still can’t buy chocolate milk.