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Children tell two kinds of lies. I call these “preschool lies” and “school-age lies” for want of better terms and also because these lies are dependent on the child’s level of development.
Preschool children are learning and practicing how to separate fantasy from reality. Preschoolers are also egocentric and truly believe it is their thoughts and wishes that cause things to happen.
The preschooler doesn’t yet know what truth is yet, let alone have the ability to understand there can be shades of gray between the truth and a falsehood. Piaget teaches us that children are close to age seven before they really understand what a lie is and that lying is bad.
When your preschooler tells you a blatant lie, a “fantasy falsehood” remember that the child is not really trying to deceive you. The child believes what he or she is saying and wants it to be true. “The baby said she wanted to go to the playground!” is an example. Of course the baby can.t talk yet and Jimmy knows it. But he wants to go to the playground and has chosen this way of saying so. It makes perfect sense to the child that everybody should want to go to the playground.
Understand WHY the child tells such tales and use gentle guidance to HELP THE CHILD LEARN TO SEPARATE WISH FROM REALITY.
Ask, “How did the baby tell you that?” The child may tell you that the baby said “Goo-goo!” You can then ask, “And you think that means she wants to go the playground?” Sometimes the child will say, “Baby can’t talk but I want to go to the playground and take her with me.” The child may also insist Baby said it, but at least you have started the process of focusing on reality.
Many of the stories children tell stem from their active daydreaming or fantasy life which is very rich at this age. “There was this man who stole the ice cream out of the freezer and I drove Daddy’s car to get the police!”
DEALING WITH THE LYING
How should parents handle this kind of lying? Help your young child sort out reality from fantasy. Don.t worry about the morals of lying yet. Don’t reinforce lying by encouraging the child to repeat the cute story for Aunt Sarah. But don’t deny the child the pleasure of the fantasy, either.
As a matter of fact you have two jobs: to encourage inventiveness AND to help the children realize there is a difference between what’s in their head and what is reality. Try a comment like, “What a clever story you made up!” rather than the old admonition, “Good boys don’t lie!”
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