It’s a familiar child rhyme originating from a poem by William Blake.
“Deceiver, dissembler -Your trousers are alight
From what pole or gallows -Shall they dangle in the night?...”
While we are not exactly sure what pants on fire has to do with lying, it springs up in play when one child accuses another of lying. Today’s society offers many examples, such as doctors giving vague prognosis, politicians making campaign promises, and family members providing other "reasons" for tardiness at the family dinner. EtiKids is here to shed light on a not-so-positive social skill that continually re-emerges throughout history... The preschooler and the tall-tales. Yes, the start of school often causes many false stories to emerge from our favorite little friends. Although seemingly amusing when a three-year-old does it, it is not so funny when that same person does it twenty years later.
Fact: Preschoolers have great imaginations. However, in their fantasy worlds, it becomes difficult to transition between real-life and make-believe. There is no doubt in their minds that "a monster did it."
For some, the imaginary friend, Jennifer or Jack, is involved in mischievous capers. Wet pants, spilled juice or missed cookies are always Jenny’s fault. A few weeks ago, when a dangling ceiling-fan pull broke, a mini family member swiftly claimed, “I didn’t do it! It just happened!"
Lying is a behavior that all children will try at some period in their lives. If one is lucky, it is attempted at an early age and quickly discouraged. The most important tool a parent can use is to react appropriately and set a positive example for the child. A loving and trusting relationship can begin as early as preschool age.
In the Kaboose.com article, Why Kids Lie (and How You Can Encourage Honesty) by Deborah Bohn, Dr. Michele Borba, a nationally renowned educator and author of Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing, describes this behavior as "wishful thinking." She reminds parents that three-year-olds don't think the same way that adults do, and they ACTUALLY WISH that someone else broke your favorite lamp!
Some tips for when your munchkin looks up at you with enormous brown eyes and says, “I saw the little mouse knock over the cookie jar, and it broke.”
1. With a positive response, let the child know the truth is appreciated, offer a warm hug and smile; and then assist in the clean-up of the mess. As it is merely wishful thinking, it is important to address the child calmly. Dr. Borba would even ask the child if he/she wishes that a little mouse would have broken the cookie jar.
2. Avoid asking the obvious question, Did you break this lamp with the soccer ball? This provides a child with the perfect opportunity to lie. While they are standing amidst the shattered ruins of a lamp, ball in hand, one can say, “I see the lamp is broken. We do not play ball inside the house. Please get a dust pan and broom. No more ball playing today.” As a grownup, it is possible to set limits without punitive measures.
3. Finally, set an example as a role model. Children learn by modeled behavior, and they are mindful of all habits good and bad. Lying to a spouse about the price of a new power tool or the purchase of another pair of shoes sets a double standard that children do not understand. If a child consistently tells fibs, it is often helpful to think about what behaviors a child may be observing in and out of the home.
Lying is not a virtue worth keeping and can be stopped. Preschool children are not in positions to discriminate good lies from bad ones; therefore, it is helpful to be consistent. Starting early sets into motion the idea of positive and negative behavior. Most important, it creates a solid foundation for a trusting relationship in the family.
As always, EtiKids is here to help. If your tall-tale-teller (say that 5 times, fast!) is way too inventive, contact us for more information on how to positively reinforce good behavior!
And for conversation purposes: What was the most crafty excuse that your child invented? How was it handled?