The title of this blog was inspired by my tiny granddaughter. There were ants on the floor, and when mummy followed their trail she found chicken from the previous night's dinner - hidden in Fifi's shoe! When she asked why the chicken was hidden in her shoe, little miss denied doing it, and decided that daddy must have done it! Mummy said that daddy had Gnocchi, not chicken! She got to the bottom of the mystery in a short while - Fifi had been told if she could eat all her dinner she could have a little chocolate. Obviously, she couldn't eat it all, but she really wanted that chocolate.
I suppose it is understandable that little kids tell fibs, after all they are surrounded by an amazing fantasy world at pre-school age, their imaginations are working overtime, and they play "pretend'' games for hours each day. Many small children have imaginary friends at this age also, and they seem to be a great favourite when it comes to shifting the blame for a misdemeanour. How many times have we thought "well, there is only you and me here son, and I didn't do it!" - much to our secret and vast amusement!
At about age 3 we start to teach our children that there are consequences for naughty or bad behaviour, and as time out or whatever discipline we use is to be avoided, then our little bundles of joy will want to pass the buck! The imaginary friend, or the fairies did it mummy! Even though little Joan's face is covered in crumbs and the biscuit tin is now empty - she didn't do it! It is normal for little kids to dip their toes into the waters of dishonesty, so don't panic!
I read where a renowned educator, Dr. Michele Borba, EdD, who has written several parenting books, calls this behaviour "wishful thinking" - she encourages us to remember that "a three-year-old's brain doesn't work the same way yours does". "The biggest reason why kids won't admit [a wrongdoing] is because they really wish someone else did," Dr. Borba explains.
So instead of putting all the emphasis on the lie, instead try asking, "Do you wish that had happened?" When he confesses, give your little one a big smile and a cuddle for telling the truth. Then quietly help him to fix his mistake, by cleaning up the spill together, or saying sorry to his brother for taking his train set.
I believe that preschool children can't yet distinguish between fantasy and the real world - they do know that some things are pretend, but they are not yet certain about where the line is, the edges are blurry!
Even though we know all this, we still don't want our children to get into a habit of lying to us. So what can we do, to nip this in the bud early? My first rule was that I didn't hear my daughter when she told me a lie. I tried to stay very calm, not shout and rant, but at the same time I insisted she tell me the truth. She was told that although she may get into trouble for the misdeed, she would get into more trouble for telling a lie. I would just keep saying to her "tell me the truth". And eventually she would. She came to realise that it was actually better to 'fess up' than to persist in an obvious lie. When Fifi told her fib and then owned up after a little while, my daughter thanked her for telling the truth. Maybe this is the key to the whole thing? To acknowledge that it is difficult to admit you have done wrong, but that you are proud that they have told you the truth.
There are also certain things you can do to avoid the necessity for lies! Don't try to lay traps for the child, this is unfair, and unnecessary. For example, don't ask the child "who did this?" or "did you do this?" - don't ask "did you clean your shoes?" when you know full well who did or didn't do "this" and that he hasn't cleaned his shoes! You can ask why he did something, and in the shoe example you can say "I see you haven't cleaned your shoes yet" and then suggest that he do them now or whenever you want it done.
If your child makes a mistake and does something wrong, this is an ideal learning opportunity also - again, the chicken in the shoe comes up as a brilliant example. Mummy told Fifi that it would have been best to tell her and daddy that she couldn't eat all her dinner, and to ask if she could still have a chocolate. She also told her that the chicken should have gone into the bin, and that the chicken in the shoe was why the ants had all come inside. As young as she is, Fifi could see the logic in this! I freely admit that my gentle daughter handled this situation much better than I would have. Fifi learned from her mistake, and learned that it was good to tell the truth.
The key, I believe, is that our children understand that it is quite safe to tell the truth, and that whatever happens we love them unconditionally. If they forget and tell a lie, we can remind them. The main thing is that we show them love, and gentleness.
As for older children who lie, I will put down my thoughts about this in a separate blog.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I welcome your comments, whether you agree or disagree with me!