I put a shout out on Facebook a few weeks ago asking for some direction and guidance with our little three-year-old Hannah and her lying. I got some great responses and resources, and I wanted to compile them and share them all here.
Here's the bottom line: Hannah was lying to me. Regularly. But she truly did not appear to know she was lying. I feel like I am a pretty fair judge of my kids and it was as if she was in another reality. She truly believed she was not lying.
An example: she'd walk out of her brothers' room (which she isn't supposed to be in.) I would say:
Me: "Hannah where were you?"
Me: "No I saw you come out of your brothers' room."
Hannah: "No I wasn't."
Me: "Where were you?"
Hannah: "Nowhere. I wasn't in there."
That example illustrates what an obvious lie this was. However, I was unable to get her to admit that she was in the room. I didn't threaten her with punishment. I told her it was okay if she told me. But she just flat-out would not concede.
The thing is Hannah is incredibly verbose. Her vocabulary and understanding of so many concepts seems well beyond her years. As far as language skills, she is leaps beyond all of my other children (dare I say combined?) Isaac talked young but nothing compared to this. The chick can catch nuances of languages.
For example, I was talking about JB's dad and she said, "You mean Grampa?" She got that John has a dad and that his dad is Grampa. That impresses me.
So how could she not get the concept of lying?
Here were some things I took away from that conversation on Facebook:
- Parents has an age-by-age guide to lying. The primary age I was concerned with was preschoolers (ages 2-4). I found what they had to say so interesting. Because toddlers' language skills are just emerging, they do not have a clear idea yet of where truth begins and ends. At this age, toddlers also have a fairly shaky grasp on the difference between reality, daydream, wishes, fantasies, and fears, says Elizabeth Berger, a Parents advisor, child psychiatrist, and author of Raising Kids with Character.
- According to a Parenting article: Why Kids Lie--Age by Age Hannah is well below the age where this should be seen as a problem.
- My friend Lisa jumped in. She is a pediatrician so I was especially interested in what she had to say. "Kids that age have a hard time differentiating between reality and pretend/fantasy. Often that shows up as them being frightened by something on a movie or TV show that is not real. Older kids understand it is not real, but younger kids don't make that distinction as well. This can also be involved in kids not understanding lying. She may have a hard time differentiating between what is true and what she wishes is true or imagines is true."
- It is better to point out what happened than to try and get a toddler to admit they did it. Most things I read said that avoiding the showdown is preferable when they truly aren't going to get it.
- I had two good book suggestions: Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie from my friend Jenny and Tell the Truth, Tyler from Kara.
Apparently preschoolers lie for the following reasons:
- To please the adults around them
- As part of wishful thinking
- Because they are confused
- To avoid getting into trouble
- Because we set them up
Suggestions to help them learn to tell the truth include:
- Encourage them instead of praising them
- Help them distinguish between reality and wishes.
- Show them you value honesty.
- Use a problem-solving approach with accidents and poor choices.
- Describe what you see and ask the child to make amends.
Other books on honesty:
- The Berenstain Bears and the Truth
- It's True (Little Critter Inspired Kids)
- Franklin Fibs (Classic Franklin Stories)
In the end, it is important to note that only you truly know your child. What other people think doesn't really matter. While it may seem like Hannah is pulling the wool over my eyes, I am quite confident that she is not. Somehow I need to teach her about lying, but I need to be okay with the fact that she might be too young to truly understand it.
Hannah is the most imaginative of my children. She is the first child who has brought me an imaginary friend to meet. I truly think that she is a bit confused on reality when it comes to lies.
P.S. If you have any other insights or resources to share, please do! I'd love to include more help for other parents in the same boat.