Dear Mr. Dad: My six-year-old daughter has suddenly begun telling lies—right to my face—and she’s started cheating at games too. My wife and I can’t figure out where this is coming from. We’re a very religious family and we see lying and cheating as serious moral flaws. What can we do to stop our daughter’s behavior?
A: Unfortunately, at age six, your child may have a theoretical grasp of the concepts of honesty and integrity, but right now, she’s too busy conducting an important—and completely normal—social experiment to care.
Until now, she’s looked at the world in a rather naïve, black-and-white way, believing that everyone sees and experiences things in the same way and that everyone knows the same things. But in a great developmental leap forward, she’s now discovering what psychologists call the Theory of Mind. That’s when kids (usually around six) figure out that different people can see the same situation in very different ways, that they don’t always know what’s going on inside other people’s head, and that no one will know what’s truly going on in hers unless she tells them.
This is a perfect good-news-bad-news development. On the good-news side, there’s empathy—the understanding that someone else might feel something different than she does. Being able to put herself into another person’s metaphorical shoes will help her better understand diversity and start developing rudimentary conflict-resolution skills.