Has your preschooler recently started lying? Maybe she won’t fess up to drawing on the kitchen wall or makes up stories when asked about something that happened. While this behavior is usually troubling to parents, it’s actually quite normal - and there are right and wrong ways to react. So, how should you handle a little one who keeps lying? Read on for expert tips.
• Starting around age three, kids indulge in a lot of mental fantasies. This is when they begin to realize that the truth isn’t always as exciting as fantasy. For instance, a kid might imagine himself having ice cream for breakfast every day or being the fastest runner on earth. Real life just isn’t like that, and a healthy imagination is a kid’s way of coping. This is what Dr. Joshua Sparrow calls “magical thinking.” Parents should explain to their kids that what they have imagined isn’t what really happened. The idea is not to condemn the fantasizing, but to establish that it’s not appropriate to substitute make-believe for the truth.
• Sometimes young children lie simply because they are afraid of getting in trouble with mom or dad. Parents often overreact when their preschooler lies. Make sure to speak kindly to your child when explaining why they should tell the truth. If you react too harshly when a child of this age tells a lie, you may be setting them up to be afraid of confiding in you. When a child does tell the truth, make sure you praise them for their honesty so they don’t regret telling you what really happened.
• Try not to bombard a young child with lectures about lying. Their attention span is fairly short and they probably won’t remember a long speech. Childcare expert Inmarie Mazariegos advises that you instead look for “teachable moments.” These are everyday situations that present an opportunity for you to help your child understand the difference between a lie and the truth. If you catch your child in a lie, stop and take a few minutes to give a simple explanation of how things could have been handled differently - and then, let it go.
Always keep in mind that it’s developmentally appropriate for preschool-age children to lie or make things up. Lying at this age is by no means indicative of a habitual problem nor is it a warning sign for future issues. This phase can be the perfect occasion to teach kids about what’s real and what isn’t. Just keep your explanations basic and your tone calm.