This unpopular habit could be a sign of intelligence in kids, according to research - a psychology professor reveals why

 A young girl with her finger on her lips.
A young girl with her finger on her lips.

Lying could be a sign of intelligence in children, according to research and a psychologist has explained why you don't need to worry if your kid is always telling fibs.

Lying to your kids might not be something you're proud of, but most parents have done it at one point or another. Yes, telling white lies to children can backfire, but telling them their drawing is beautiful or that the dance routine they made up is inspired won't do any harm.

But when it comes to kids telling lies, that's a habit most parents want to put a stop to. It can be frustrating if your child often bends the truth to try and get what they want (whether that's a physical thing, more attention, or to get out of trouble), but if you've got a little fibber on your hands then fear not - lying is totally normal for kids, and it could even be a positive sign of their cognitive development.

In fact, research published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that learning to lie has cognitive benefits. Dr Kang Lee, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and a co-author of the study, explained, "As parents and teachers - and society as a whole - we always worry that if a kid lies there will be terrible consequences. But it turns out there is a big difference between kids who lie earlier and those who lie later. The kids who lie earlier tend to have much better cognitive abilities."

The study asked 42 preschool-aged children in China - who showed no initial ability to lie - to play a hide-and-seek game in which they hid a treat, such as popcorn, from an adult in one hand. The grown-up had to choose the hand that the child indicated. If the child successfully deceived the adult, they got to keep the treat. After being split into two groups, one group of children was taught how to lie to win the game, the other group was not.

The researchers found that in standardised tests used to measure executive function, including self-control and 'theory of mind' (the capacity to understand another person's intentions and beliefs), the kids who were taught deception outperformed the control group. They wrote in the findings: "With just a few days of instruction, young children quickly learned to deceive and gained immediate cognitive benefits from doing so."

Dr Kang Lee added that while this isn't a sign that parent should be teaching their kids how to lie, "it's not a bad idea to let them play these kinds of deceptive games."

A young girl hiding behind a chair
A young girl hiding behind a chair

Dr Lee has spent more than 20 years studying how and why children lie, and his research found that by age two, about 30 per cent of kids can pull off a convincing lie. By age three, about 50 per cent can lie successfully. And by four, about 80 per cent can do it.

And the ability to pull off a convincing lie is a sign of two important milestones in a child's development: understanding that their mind and what happens in it is separate from another person’s mind (theory of mind) and the ability to regulate their behaviour and actions. Therefore, being able to convincingly lie at a young age is associated with some very positive attributes, including intelligence, individuation, and creativity.

"If we're going to be a thriving society, we have to learn to lie," Dr Lee previously told CBC. "We are social beings and we have to work with others. In some situations, we may have to tell lies to achieve that goal. That's why we should not blindly think that honesty is the only policy."

So, next time your child tells a frustratingly convincing lie, try to look on the bright side - it's a normal part of development and might even be something to celebrate (but not encourage) while they're still young.

In related news, a parenting expert has revealed why your teenager’s ‘annoying’ habits are actually a sign of good parenting and here's how to respond when your kids says 'I hate you'.