I’ve had a few questions lately from caregivers about what to do about preschooler fibbing. Here is a great little article I found that does a great joboffering some info. I have also ordered some kids books that can help parents talk this over.
Lying: Why it happens and what to do about it
by Anne Krueger
Why preschoolers lie
When you catch your preschooler weaving a tall tale or denying something you know she’s done, she isn’t purposefully trying to deceive you. At this age, the line between reality and fantasy is still a bit fuzzy. So rather than being mischievous, her fibs may stem from:
ï Forgetfulness. Preschoolers have short memories, so your child probably isn’t trying to be crafty when she sets off a preschool melee by grabbing a classmate’s toy, then denies any wrongdoing when you ask her about it later. She may simply have no memory of taking the toy.
ï Wishful thinking. When your preschooler firmly declares that she didn’t break your delicate china vase, she’s not really trying to get away with something. She’s just wishing it didn’t happen — so much so that she’s convinced herself she had nothing to do with it.
ï An active imagination. At this age, kids have a rich fantasy life. Your preschooler’s creativity is at a peak, and she may think that what she conjures up in her head is actually true. After all, doesn’t everyone travel to the jungles of Africa in the middle of the night?
ï A need to feel good. Creating stories makes your preschooler feel important. When she tells you that she swam all the way across an Olympic-sized pool by herself, she’s seeking approval for an impressive (though highly unlikely) accomplishment rather than consciously fibbing.
ï A craving for attention. Your preschooler may have figured out that telling a tall tale is a surefire way to get a response out of you — and she might not even care if it’s a negative one. This type of “exploratory lying” may continue if it gets her the attention she wants.
ï A sense of control. When your preschooler falsely claims that she was the one to rescue her baby brother after he fell out of the swing, she’s trying to bring some order to a situation that overwhelmed her.
What to do about lying:
Humour her. It may seem counterintuitive — after all, you don’t want to encourage lies — but the best way to handle this stage is to relax, enjoy your preschooler’s tall tales, and gently nurture her instincts to be truthful. Highly embroidered fantasies are generally harmless and part of a preschooler’s normal development. After all, you read fairy tales to your child — why shouldn’t she offer some of her own?
The same goes for imaginary friends. Pretend pals are normal and signal a child’s well-developed imagination. Even when your preschooler blames a misdeed on her “friend,” there’s nothing to worry about. From an emotional standpoint, imaginary friends serve an important purpose: They give a child a safe way to find out who she wants to be.
Don’t accuse. Couch your comments so they encourage confession, not denial: “I wonder how these crayons got all over the living room carpet? I wish someone would help me pick them up.”
Be sympathetic. It’s easy to understand why your preschooler — who’s just spilled apple juice all over Grandma’s new carpet — doesn’t want to ‘fess up to it. Explain to her that instead of trying to wish that spill away, she could admit to it and help make things better by cleaning it up with Grandma. If she wasn’t supposed to be drinking juice in the living room to begin with, gently point out her wrongdoing, but also praise her for owning up to it. Eventually she’ll catch on that telling the truth is less painful than telling a lie.
Explain why honesty is important. Your preschooler may tell you that she knows lying is bad, but until she’s 5 or 6, she won’t fully grasp the moral implications of being untruthful. In the meantime, teach her about honesty by telling her the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” which drives home the importance of being trustworthy and also teaches her that lying can have serious consequences. A good book about lying is Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine, by Evaline Ness, which dramatically illustrates the ramifications of telling tall tales, yet manages to end happily.
Be positive, not punitive. If you expect your preschooler to tell you when she’s done something wrong, don’t respond to her honesty by venting your anger at her. (If you do, how likely is she to admit her wrongdoing the next time?) Besides being inappropriate at this age, a harsh penalty for lying probably won’t have the desired effect: Children who are severely punished for minor offenses often go to extremes, developing an overly strict conscience or becoming pint-sized rebels — neither of which you’re aiming for. Instead, praise your preschooler when she tells the truth. Positive reinforcement is much more effective than punishment in making her feel that it’s worth it to be on the up-and-up.
Reassure your preschooler that you love her no matter what.When she accidentally breaks your bedroom lamp, she may deny it for fear that you won’t love her as much. Explain that Mommy and Daddy still love her, even when she’s done something you’d rather she didn’t.
Build trust. Let your preschooler know that you trust her and that you can be trusted, too. If she’s due for a shot at her next checkup, for instance, don’t tell her it won’t hurt. Try to keep your word, and when you can’t, apologize for breaking a promise.
Let her know what you expect of her. Use different situations to teach your preschooler what you consider acceptable behaviour. Establish parameters, for instance, by letting her know that before she takes a cookie off of someone else’s plate, she needs to first ask if it’s okay. Providing clearly defined limits is one of the most loving, positive things you can do for your preschooler. Eventually, she’ll be able to use them to judge for herself whether a behaviour is appropriate. A child who understands that limits are for her benefit will grow up to be an adult who respects them, too.
Check out the books in the Lending Library section for some stories that might also help to broach this subject supportively.