I wanted to start this series showing specifically how “misbehavior” in certain stages of child development is actually an incredible new skill on its way; that “misbehavior” is growth. This one is about when a 5-1/2 year old starts blatantly lying.
Around 5 years, 7 months, a child is likely to start lying and in the most blatant of ways. Other have confirmed this behavior at this age. It certainly has some variability of when it will start, so please allow a month of variance. My son would blatantly do something–and something innocent–then purposely put his hands in his pocket and whistle as if he didn’t do it. Or he would knock something over right in front of me and say “My brother did it!”
It’s easy to write this out and reflect on it and realize it was no big deal. But in the moment in can be a big deal. Imagine further that someone is standing right next to you when it happens and they announce, “You liar! You did that! You can’t blame your brother.”
When stuff like this happens, I always wait, usually for about 3 weeks, to see what new skill might be on its way or what the new behavior means. I am never disappointed. In this case, it came with an astonishing leap in mental advancement. My son became very critical of ideas. I would have called it the “Starts to Doubt Santa Claus” milestone if I could but I named it “Evaluates and Explains Ideas.” Before he would accept anything told to him. Now he questioned everything. What really shocked me is when we read a story about a dictator in newly colonized Mexico who came in and announced, “I have come to liberate you!” and my son burst out “That’s a lie!” This ability to understand lying and to evaluate things critically is an important skill.
I implore you not to punish this behavior when it happens. It’s fine to say you understood it’s a lie. I think that’s what the child may in fact be after. They might think, “I did just lie! How did you know that!?” The idea behind my book series about this, Misbehavior is Growth, is that you can guide this behavior into something positive by investing in the skill being developed rather than punish the “bad” behavior. You might read a book like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. It makes an impression on a child: other people know you can lie!?
This behavior of trying to trick other spills over in to later milestones too. New skills arrive then, such as the ability to draw conclusions from proof. You might try giving the child a project to do such as “Explain to your dad how the earth revolves around the sun,” or any other topic they are interested in. You might also start to try to “trick” them with hard math questions. Children LOVE this.