24 October 2012, by Tan Yi Lin
Coco marked turning 14 months old with a most memorable milestone:
Telling her first lie. Or rather, “telling”, since she can’t quite talk coherently yet.
In fact, she “told” two lies in two consecutive days.
I came home from work one evening to find the spine of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” ripped and left hanging by a thread. Holding the damaged book, I approached Coco and asked, “Coco, who tore this book?”
Normally, she’s really delighted to see me step through the door and would hurry over, at the risk of tripping over her own scampering feet, to give my legs a bear hug. That day, she remained seated on her play mat, her gaze focused on some jigsaw pieces before her.
“Coco, did you tear this book?”
No response. She pretended to be absorbed in her puzzle.
“Coco, Mummy is talking to you. Did you tear this book? Yes or no?”
She shook her head!!!
Gobsmacked (because I wasn’t sure if she understood my line of questioning, much less expect her to actually respond), I just sarcastically commented, “Not you? Yeah right! I bet Yi Po (grandaunt) tore your book, huh?” and walked off.
The next morning, while she was on her play mat, I fished poor Brown Bear out from her book box and asked her again:
“Coco, who tore this book?”
She directed her gaze to our helper, who was observing us from a distance, and….
…POINTED AT OUR HELPER!!!
What?!?! When did our baby learn how to lie?! HOW did she learn how to lie?! To deny responsibility? To shift blame to others?
On one hand, I was shocked and horrified. On the other, coming from a 14-month old, it was undeniably amusing. Mortified, I just snapped, “Are you kidding me?! Don’t talk nonsense!” and walked off (because I really wasn’t sure how to react!)
Little Liar, Pants on Fire
I’ve been mulling over the incident. I don’t want Coco to grow into a self-centered brat who blames everyone else but herself when something goes wrong. Worse, to accuse the family help of something she didn’t do. I won’t have Coco taking advantage of our helper like that. But isn’t she a tad too young to understand the concept, the wrongfulness and the consequences of lying, and therefore be punished for it?
My friends assured me that it was unlikely that Coco had learned how to lie through some bad influence or other. She probably reacted instinctively to the interrogative tone of my questioning and responded accordingly. Like my wise friend S said, “if dogs, who don’t converse in English, understand and react in guilt when they know that they have misbehaved, babies do too”. Some quick Googling also reassured me that toddlers fib, not out of dishonesty or malice, but because of an active imagination and less than perfect memory.
Another article explained that it is common for children to start fibbing when they are between three to four years old. That’s when something in their mind clicks, a crucial part of the brain gets switched on and they are able to start thinking like adults. Now, I’m not claiming that my 14-month old is some kind of genius just because she’s started telling lies, but seriously, if Coco can indeed think like an adult at this age, then that really is pretty freaky.
The Need To Get Even
Last week, I witnessed another first in Coco’s behaviour.
She was having a ball of a time stomping on a lifeless helium balloon that had fallen to the floor, cackling and sniggering away at each attempt to stamp on it. She lost her balance and fell to the ground (but didn’t hurt herself). She came whining to me for comfort, which I generously offered in the form of a warm hug, but without first chastising her that she fell through no one’s fault but her own.
(Side note: I am truly appalled at how some parents smack the table or the floor, and say “Bad table!” or “Bad floor!” for “hurting” their kid, when their kid falls or knocks into furniture. Hello?!? Is that psychotic behaviour or what? Not to mention that it wrongly encourages the kid not to take responsibility for their own mistake. Psycho.)
Immediately she stopped snivelling, turned away from me, walked towards the offending balloon and gave it ONE.GOOD.HARD.KICK before strutting off to play with something else.
Huh?! Did my baby just exact REVENGE on a balloon?! Is such revenge-seeking behaviour going to translate into bullying and aggression towards smaller and weaker children when she goes to school? Or even at home, towards her own sibling?
Will Not Be Bullied
Not long ago, I was feeling rather smug that Coco could stand up for herself, against older and bigger children.
We were at a friend’s house and she was happily banging on a toy drum with a drumstick. A rambunctious boy, about four years old, bounded over and snatched at the drumstick. Coco not only didn’t release her hold on it – she tightened her tiny fist into a death grip around the stick and pulled back. The tug-of-war went on for a few more seconds. Somewhere during that time, I think I uttered a meek, “Coco, share please”.
The boy eventually gave up and ran off to play with another toy.
Mother’s pride, I tell you. Even though I would have been just as impressed if she had agreed to share. My 13-month old girl just stood her ground against a much bigger and stronger opponent.
It’s has really been such an eye-opener to see certain types of behaviour (and misbehaviour) start to emerge from this little person. It makes me wonder how much of what we do is instinctive (denial; revenge; self-defence) and how much of it is consciously learnt.
Just today, I had a lovely reader email me from Korea, while on vacation with her family, and ask if she could get me anything from Seoul. I have never me this girl in person, only through email. Yesterday, on a crowded train home from work, I stood, clutching my pregnant belly, while three able-bodied young men averted their gaze and remained glued to their seats. In both situations, we were all complete strangers. And yet, why is it that some people turn out to be sweet and thoughtful, while others are insensitive and selfish?
I aspire to raise a daughter who is strong and independent, but also kind and empathetic. I certainly hope that her bossiness and ability to stand up for herself is a positive indication of the former; and that her generosity in sharing her food and her loving nature, will seed the latter.
Well, let’s see where life leads us, on this surprising, heartwarming and enjoyable learning journey called Parenthood.