Your mother just knitted a beautiful pink hat for your seven-year-old daughter. The hat, unfortunately, is also extremely itchy. To be honest, you wouldn’t even want to wear it yourself. But you tell your daughter, “Say thank you. Tell your grandmother how much you like the hat.”
Your daughter looks at you with a quizzical expression and whispers, “But, Mommy, it’s so itchy. You always tell me not to lie. Why should I tell her that I love it?”
“Well, just say thank you. The color is pretty. Let her know that you like the color,” you tell your daughter, hoping that your mother won’t pick up on the fact that your daughter will not leave the hat on her head.
Lying: Ages and Stages
Fact and Fantasy
All kids lie. It’s a natural part of development, especially when children are just beginning to develop language skills, as they are trying to distinguish between fact and fantasy. Two and three-year-olds are so caught up in their imaginary worlds they do not even realize that what they are telling you is not reality.
A friend of mine once told me that her daughter, Yael, came home from playgroup and excitedly said, “Mommy, they got a new playground in school! There are new swings and a purple slide and a great seesaw. I had so much fun during playtime today.”
Yael continued to describe all the wonderful things she did in playgroup that day. The next morning, Yael’s mother, energized by the news, approached the teachers, “Yael told me all about the new swings and seesaw. I wanted to come in and see it, if that is okay.”
Yael’s teachers stared at her mother and shrugged their shoulders. “Umm, Mrs. Schapiro, we didn’t get anything new for the playground.”
Yael’s mother was embarrassed by the incident, but she realized that Yael was not intentionally lying to her. Instead, she was creating a world of fantasy. She wanted there to be a new playground at school, so she made one up in her head. This is natural and positive for kids to do. Therefore, we have to distinguish between “lies” (told for the benefit of the person speaking in order to avoid punishment or get someone else in trouble) and “fantasy” (told because the child has imagined something desired).
Don’t Set Up for the Lie
School age children understand the difference between reality and fantasy. And, at this stage, many children begin to lie in order to avoid negative circumstances. In this case, it is important not to set up your child for a lie. In other words, if you know that your child did not brush his teeth before bedtime, do not ask him, “Did you brush your teeth?” In this instance, you are simply setting him up to lie to you. Instead, take him by the hand and say, “Let’s go brush your teeth.”
The same goes if you see your daughter sitting guiltily with crumbs on her chin and an empty box of cookies on her lap. Don’t ask her, “Who ate the cookies?” Instead, point out that you noticed she ate the cookies and that it is before dinner time and you would like her to talk to you about it before because now she will not be able to eat dessert.
Finding Ways to Tell the Truth
When you want your child to say thank you for gifts that he or she doesn’t like you are teaching gratitude (and manners!). But, how do you reconcile what seems like lies with your “no lie policy?”
You can tell your children that they can still say thank you regardless of whether they like the present; however, they simply need to find something (such as the color of the hat) that they like. They need not say, “I love it!” Instead, they can say something like, “It was so nice of you to think of me.” This allows your children to be truthful without having to be dishonest.
Teach the Art of Apology
As your children get older, they need to understand the consequences of lying. After all, as they develop, lies become bigger and more significant. Therefore, while it continues to be important to prevent lies from happening, you also need to teach your children how to apologize if they do lie.