How do you draw the line between rich imagination and lying? At what age do your innocent children learn the dark art of telling something they know to be untrue in hopes you will believe it? Developmentally, can two- and three-year-olds lie?
From first language skills through around four, preschoolers are struggling with a merged realm of fantasy and fact, wishes and reality. Emotion rules. Toddlers want power, say the experts at Parents magazine, and will stretch the truth to exert their independence. The suggested, muted response is to point to evidence that reminds the child of the truth. Punishment is not advised.
Since most toddlers are fed a rich diet of imaginative fiction through videos, television and books, parents should not expect them to differentiate between truth and imagination. We revel in the fantasies our little children concoct, and marvel at their use of imaginary friends. Expect them to use those same imaginary friends as scapegoats.
You will save yourself a lot of time and talk, says child psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Berger, if you redirect your little fibber. When the imaginary friend messes with the family pet, remind your real-life two-year-old that the dog has feelings, too. Then move on.
Very young children have neither the attention span nor intellectual capacity for a long talk about the difference between lies and the truth. Avoid an interrogation, says Dr. Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist consulted by Parenting. If you ask a question you set the child up to lie to you: “Did you break the vase?” What do you expect the child to say?
As the parent, you hold all the power, and the two-year-old knows it. Instead of cornering your kid, state the fact: “The vase got broken. Please help me clean this up.”
Some developmental authorities see lying as a sign of a sharp mind at work. From Parenting:
"'Preschoolers with higher IQ scores are more likely to lie,' says Angela Crossman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, who researched the subject. Early lying proficiency may also be linked with good social skills in adolescence."
Have you been surprised to find that your two- or three-year-old seems to be deliberately lying about something? At Kids Konnect, we think parents can learn from each other. Please share your thoughts below.