Have you caught your preschooler telling a lie?
Yesterday morning I was in the bathroom putting on my makeup when I heard a distinct SMACK, immediately followed by a long wail from my 18 month old daughter. “MOMMMYYYY”, my four year old son yelled, “Sissy fell off the bed”. I ran in the room to find my daughter still, in fact, on the bed with a bright red, perfectly formed, four year old’s hand print on her little back. ‘That little sh*t!’ was my first thought…Until that point I had never actually outright caught him in such a lie. Sure he would spin tall tails when recounting an event or telling me a story. But this was a deliberate lie, a lie made in an attempt to avoid something…in this case a timeout. After cuddling and soothing the little one I then turned my attention to my son. “Cody”, I said, “Why did you tell mommy that sissy fell off the bed when she didn’t?’ “Yes, she did” was his reply. “Well she was still on the bed when mommy came in, if she fell she would be on the floor, wouldn’t she?” “No, because she climbed back up really fast”..Uh huh, this is going no where. “Cody, tell mommy the truth please, sissy has a hand print on her back, someone hit her and you were the only one in the room”. He blinked up at me for a few seconds before dissolving into tears.”S-S-S-Sissy was bugging meeeee…WHAAAA *Sniff*” After quickly debating the best way to handle this situation, I proceeded to kneel in front of him and look him in the eyes, while explaining calmly that it is not nice to lie, and if you tell lies then people won’t always believe you when you are telling the truth. He told me that he lied because he didn’t want to get into trouble. Which, in all honesty, is totally understandable. I mean how many times have we, as adults, told a lie to avoid consequences to certain actions. I know I have before. I am not proud of it, but lying does happen. This is incident made me realize that I was, in fact, not quite sure exactly HOW I should handle a lying four year old. So, like I do when any great parenting dilemma has me stumped, I stayed up until 3am pouring over every article and study I could find through “Google.” I only powered down my computer once I felt pretty confident that I was armed with the knowledge necessary handle the next incident. And now I am going to pass that knowledge on to you!
The Tall Tale
When it comes to preschoolers there are two main types of lies that are told. Number one: Telling Tall tales-All mothers of young children are familiar with the concept. You know, the one where you ask them what they did at daycare and they proceed to tell you the teacher was turned into a monkey by the evil magician because she wouldn’t let the children eat candy for lunch and so on and so on… These type of lies are not an attempt to deceive, they are simply a preschooler’s way of exercising their imagination. And truthfully, many preschoolers don’t yet have a firm grasp of where “real” ends and “fantasy” begins. These tall tails are usually just a way to express what they wish would have or will happen. When you find your child spouting off a tall tale you have two choices. You can either say “Is that so?” And leave it at that. Or you can help them elaborate by asking them questions and giving suggestions. Why not make a game out of it by taking turns adding to the story. This is a great way to help children exercise their imagination and practice pretending. It will also provide hours of great fun as children love spending time with mom and dad and they really love having control of the story and how it plays out. You will be amazed at how creative your little ones story can become.
The lie to avoid consequence
The second type of lie is the one that we, as parents, especially dread. It is the lie that is told to get what they want or avoid something that they don’t want. A common reason is obviously to avoid punishment, such as in my sons case. Depending on the age of your child there are important factors to consider when doling out consequences of lying and teaching children how to tell the truth. Preschool age children, around the ages of three to five, as I said earlier, do not necessarily understand the difference between a lie and the truth. When your child says that they “Didn’t hit sissy” when sissy clearly has a hand print on her back…ahem, I am familiar with this scenario, Your child could really mean that they wish that they didn’t hit sissy. They are not really mature enough to even realize that lying is wrong, which is why a child sees no problem in fibbing to get something that they want. We, as parents need to keep this in mind when reacting to our children lie. While it may be tempting to scold, discipline or even shout when we catch our child lying, cease and desist, because all that will do is reinforce the belief that they have to lie in order to avoid punishment. Instead make a promise to your child that, no matter what, if they tell the truth, you will not get angry. Also be sure to make it clear that even if they tell a lie or behave badly, that you still love them, you just do not like the behavior. Sometimes children feel that if they do something wrong they must lie because if mommy finds out “she won’t love me anymore.” And never, EVER, not matter how angry you are, EVER tell your child you hate them or that you don’t love them. These types of statements can cause the problem to worsen, because the child will feel the need to lie in order to gain your approval or “love.” At the preschool age the main things you can do are to letting your child know how happy it makes you when they tell the truth, make sure they know that if they tell the truth they will not get yelled at or punished and explain to them the basics of truth telling, and how not telling the truth makes it hard for people to trust you.
Practice what you preach
One last thing to keep in mind is that children are ALWAYS listening. You may have even encouraged you child to tell a “white lie,” such as telling them to tell grandma how yummy her not-so-yummy brownies are. Children take everything very literally and do not understand what a “white lie” is. Even if you attempt to explain it, it will just confuse them more. To children, a lie is a lie, and if they see mommy not telling the truth, then why should they? So make a conscious effort to be honest, even if it may be a little embarrassing. I know that this is going to be the hardest part for me, as I have told many a white lie. So often, in fact that it is almost a habit. Oops! I guess it is for the best, though. All the lessons in the world about truth telling and honesty do not measure up to what your child will learn simply by observing you. Children learn by example, and it is our job to set a good one. And hey, maybe if grandma finally knows the truth, we can stop feeding her poor dog those brownies!