Lying in kids is rarely a cause of concern.
As a matter of fact, it’s a sign that they are developing normally — telling a lie is one of the initial signs of the formation of the so-called theory of mind, which is the ability to attribute mental states (knowledge, emotions, beliefs, intents, etc.) to themselves and others.
I know exactly when my children started lying, and I was happy to know they had the imagination to tell me the things that did not happen.
But it’s a different thing if the child is being coached or manipulated to lie. That’s because it can be destructive not only to him or her but, in most instances, also to the targeted person.
Feel that somebody is brainwashing a child to speak or act a certain way in order to deliberately hurt your feelings or maliciously taint your reputation?
Common Reasons Why Kids May be Brainwashed by Adults
Just about anyone at any age can be a victim of brainwashing. But because children are highly impressionable and learn by example, there is no denying that, more often than not, they are some of the easiest and biggest targets.
Besides being trouble-free to manipulate, however, some kids may possess manipulative behaviors themselves, too. Simply put, they can attempt to gain control over someone or make someone give in to their demands, which can be anything from favorite foods to toys to attention or praise. We will discuss this matter in a few, so keep reading!
Let’s take a quick look at some of the most common reasons for brainwashing kids:
1. High-conflict divorce
One of the parents may attempt to use the child in a deliberate attempt to damage the reputation of the other parent and/or the little one’s relationship with him or her.
It can be done not only in a dispute with custody but others, too, such as over the house or finances.
The problem with brainwashing and coaching a child to lie by a parent is that it can harm the targeted parent as well as damage the child emotionally.
At any given age, witnessing the dissolution of the parents’ marriage and feeling responsible for it, too, can cause a young one to feel guilty, shocked, confused and angry, among many other emotions.
Child manipulation, in this case, may cause the child to believe that he or she will only be accepted and loved by complying with the wish of the manipulative parent and taking his or her side.
Little ones who come to hate or fear a parent as a result of the brainwashing of the other may be suffering from what’s known as parental alienation syndrome (PAS) or simply parental alienation.
The phrase was coined in 1985 by a child psychologist to refer to the signs and symptoms exhibited by kids as a result of the manipulation of a parent.
Some of the behaviors of a parent that can cause his or her child to have PAS include:
- Blaming the other parent for the problems being encountered by the family.
- Making unfounded allegations about the other parent abusing the child physically or sexually.
- Using the child to spy on or gather information about the other parent.
- Refusing the child’s contact with the other parent via phone, email or in person.
- Scheduling events that can keep the child from spending time with the other parent.
- Disallowing the other parent to have access to the child’s medical or educational circumstances.
2. Child abuse
It’s not uncommon for victims of sexual abuse to think that the abuse is his or her fault.
Children are taught that older people know what’s best and are always correct, which is why they must learn from them.
It’s due to this why if an adult commits something that the child feels or believes is wrong, it’s very much likely for the youngster to conclude that the act must be his or her fault.
Young victims of sexual abuse, as a result, may eventually assume that they were born on this planet to be abused, which can attract other predators, causing the original abuse to easily lead to subsequent abuses.
It’s because of this why a part of the treatment for child abuse victims is deprogramming to correct any wrong ideas about themselves that have formed due to falling prey to adult predators. Once the lies are uncovered, kids can then choose to reject the lies and commence the healing process.
3. Social and political issues
Kids, especially older school-age children, can feel stressed and anxious over the things they see around them. This is even more so if they see their parents and other adults in distress as a result of the same matters.
Removing the emotion and telling them that their views now may not be their views in the future is vital.
That’s according to the director of psychology at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
She adds that while parents want to instill their values in their youngsters, it’s important for them to give their children the opportunity to see and acknowledge things from various perspectives. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
In 2012, for instance, grade 3 students in Toronto were asked to take to the streets with signs and other paraphernalia to protest the laying of a pipeline in western Canada.
In another incident in Quebec, a 6-year-old boy was disqualified from joining a contest for the possession of a ziploc bag instead of a reusable container.
Signs That a Child May Be Coached to Lie
Lying is normal in kids. What’s not normal, however, is if they are being manipulated to lie as well as exhibit a certain opinion or behavior with the objective of hurting the feelings or harming the reputation of someone.
Not all brainwashers are the same — some are simply better than others at doing it.
Similarly, not all kids who are being brainwashed are the same.
While others may be able to carry out exactly what manipulative people ask or want them to do, the rest may not be as very good at sticking with and implementing the plan. In either case, the bottom line is that it’s not good for the child and the target of the misdeed.
While it’s not always easy to tell whether or not someone is coaching or brainwashing a child to lie, knowing what to look for in their words and actions as well as taking into account other clues can help you get to the bottom of things.
Here are some of the telltale signs that a manipulator could be behind a child’s actions:
1. Insisting that the act is one’s own
No liar wants to be caught that he or she is lying. Similarly, no manipulator would want to be caught that he or she is the one responsible for the brainwashing of an innocent child.
Because of this, the adult makes sure to instill in his or her prey to deny being brainwashed at all costs.
It isn’t surprising why the child will insist that any behavior, attitude or opinion is solely his or hers and not anyone’s.
It’s what experts refer to as the independent thinker phenomenon — the child claims, for instance, that the resistance to meet the targeted parent comes from his or her own independent thought.
Earlier, we briefly mentioned PAS while talking about divorce being one of the most common reasons why a child may be brainwashed by one parent to hate or fear the other parent.
Well, the independent thinker phenomenon is one PAS’ handful of signs and symptoms.
2. Thinking that the manipulator can do no wrong
In the eyes of a child being brainwashed to lie or have a certain attitude or belief toward another person, the puller of strings is perfect. On the other hand, the targeted individual can do nothing right.
Programming the behavior of the unsuspecting victim, the child, often includes the brainwasher making a moral judgment against the person whom the child must hate or lie to.
Criticisms made usually include matters regarding one’s values, lifestyle, career choices, choice of friends or residential choice.
The conditioning typically proceeds in a subtle and gradual way over a period of time. There may be a different degree of intensity each time, but every one of them is always convincing and powerful.
Another common technique used when manipulating the child to think that a person, such as a parent, is good while the other, such as the other parent, is bad is rewriting reality.
By convincing a child that his or her perception of reality is wrong, the manipulator appears like he or she wants nothing but the best.
The same, unfortunately, as the brainwasher would like it to appear, cannot be said about the targeted person.
3. Giving weak or absurd rationalizations
According to a study conducted by an associate professor of forensic psychology at the University of Amsterdam, while it’s true that young kids tend to tell the most number of lies, college-age and young adults between 18 and 29 years old are considered some of the best and most successful liars.
When confronted about why he or she is acting in that manner, a child who is being coached to lie or develop a certain attitude or behavior toward a person usually won’t be able to give a reasonable justification.
In some instances, they may give wildly unusual or untrue reasons.
Because the lies being said or the actions being exhibited are programmed into the child by another person, who usually does not provide rationalization as to why to keep the child from having questions or doubts, he or she is very much likely to fail to come up with reasons believable or justifiable enough to warrant such hostility or view toward someone.
4. Showing no guilt or remorse for the negative behavior
Besides any rhyme or reason, there is another thing that’s lacking in a child who is being brainwashed: guilt.
For most people, lying alone can cause feelings of guilt, which can lead to things such as stress and anxiety. It’s due to this exactly why a polygraph machine is able to detect physiologic changes that can be linked to deception.
Well, none of that happens to a child who is conditioned to say certain things or behave a certain way.
In the case of PAS, the child may treat the other parent harshly without feeling any remorse. He or she may also act aloof, spiteful or ungrateful and still appear completely guilt-free.
Meanwhile, it’s not unlikely for the child to feel that he or she has failed the manipulative parent for not going with the plan or the inability to fully execute it as arranged.
5. Borrowing words or phrases not understood
Due to the fact that just about everything being thought or carried out is programmed into the mind by the brainwasher, it’s very much possible for the exact words or phrases used by the manipulative individual during the brainwashing process to be used by the child himself or herself — even without knowing what they mean or entail.
Borrowing scenarios is also commonplace among kids who are being manipulated.
So, in other words, the stories they tell about something that happened or someone they know are the exact same stories that the people who are brainwashing them tell.
As a matter of fact, they may even use identical words or sentences, which becomes more apparent when a child and the manipulator are interviewed one after the other.
Are All Kids Who Lie Told or Brainwashed to Lie?
In some instances, children lie of their own accord — no one is asking or forcing them to lie. As a matter of fact, based on a University of Waterloo investigation, about 96% of children lie at some point.
On average, 4-year-olds tell a lie every 2 hours, while 6-year-olds make up a lie every hour.
Refrain from assuming that just because a child is lying means that an adult is responsible for it.
According to experts, kids usually start to lie at 3 years of age, a time when they begin to realize that they can say all sorts of untrue things with adults not knowing the difference.
Those little ones can be manipulative, too.
An assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that infants realize the fact that they can get something they want from their parents and caregivers by crying at around 9 months of age.
Fortunately, by being on the lookout for telling verbal and non-verbal communication cues, you can tell whether or not your little one might be telling you fabrications.
Signs That Child is Lying (Maybe)
Here are some common telltale signs of lying in children:
1. Changes the topic
Needless to say, if a child attempts to change the topic and acts relieved upon reaping success, chances are that they are not comfortable talking about the said topic — and one of the most likely reasons for such is that it leaves them feeling guilty or afraid that they might get caught and punished, too.
2. Avoids eye contact
It’s not uncommon for a lying child to avoid looking directly into your eyes, either for fear or because of being too busy cooking up statements that can bolster the lie.
However, as the little ones get older and master the art of lying, they may learn to make eye contact while lying to appear more convincing, which is the case with many deceptive adults.
3. Provides too many details
You have every reason to be suspicious if a non-big talker child suddenly starts talking about something that’s probably a lie in great detail.
Whether the liar is a youngster or an adult, offering more details than necessary may mean that the person is attempting to do his or her best to sell the lie.
4. Delays response
In most instances, liars cook up a lie on the spot.
It’s for this reason that a child who is being less than truthful may take a while to respond to an investigative question — making up a lie is not that easy.
He or she may also try to resort to some stalling tactics, such as repeating or rephrasing the question to buy himself or herself more time.
5. Exhibits micro expressions
A child’s words may be able to keep the truth from you but not his or her face.
Guilt, anger, terror, surprise or any other emotion may show up on his or her face for a brief moment. It’s what’s referred to as a micro expression.
But you will need quick eyes and attention to detail in order to catch any micro expression.
Lying supplies a child with nervous energy. He or she may attempt to dissipate it by fidgeting, which can come in so many different forms. Playing with the hair, touching the nose, pulling the ears, shifting in the seat, shuffling the feet back and forth — these and more might indicate a lie unfolding before your very eyes.
Just Before You Assume That a Child is Being Asked to Lie
In many instances, a child is unable to differentiate a lie from the truth.
This is true whether or not he or she is being coached to lie or brainwashed. Either way, refrain from labeling a child a liar even if caught red-handed. It can wreak havoc on his or her self-esteem, which can negatively impact them emotionally and socially.
But if you believe that manipulation or brainwashing is happening and can harm both you and the child, consider keeping records and gathering evidence and get good legal advice and representation.