You love to encourage your child’s imagination, but when your preschooler starts making up stories about the experiences in her day, determine if she is a little liar or a creative kid.
Escape from reality
Childhood and imagination go hand-in-hand, and while hearing your kids making up stories can be frustrating, it’s a normal part of growing up. “Some do simply because they are very creative creatures and it is a form of actively using their imagination,” assures family therapist Edie Raether, MS, CSP. “Or, it can be an escape or retreat as the world of fantasy can be much more inviting.”
Kids aren’t exactly known for their subtlety, so when your youngster starts telling tales of things that haven’t happened, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re little liars. According to Dr. Fran Walfish, child and family psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, it is fairly common for a child to engage in fantasies and falsehoods. “For instance, kids have gone to school and said, ‘My Mommy had a baby last night,’ or ‘My Daddy went to Israel on a trip,’ these are generally the child’s wish to shock others and get their attention.”
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Testing the limits
When your child crosses over from creative kid to little liar, it may just be another developmental milestone. “By the time kids realize that not everything they do is known by you — indicating cognitive growth — they will try it out to see if you know or notice. They are testing out their limits,” clarifies Dr. Sunny Im-Wang, author of Happy, Sad, & Everything In Between: All About My Feelings.
Learning by example
You are your child’s most influential role model, so when you find yourself with a little liar on your hands, it may be time to do some self-evaluation. “It can be [an] unhealthy way of problem solving, often learned by their parents who then punish them for following their bad example,” warns Raether. “It is a quick and easy way out of a problematic situation and thus reduces their anxiety and gives them temporary control… something we all want!”
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While kids and lying can get under your skin, it’s best to determine whether your child is a little liar or creative kid before you can decide what steps to take. “When your child lies, it is natural for your first response to be anger. No one wants to be lied to. But, it is better for your child if you first try to understand his motivation,” urges Dr. Carole Lieberman M.D. However, whether you determine your kids are making up stories to be sneaky or simply exercising a little imaginative play, the key is to “teach them a better alternative,” advises Raether. “Punishment is not correction and teaches nothing in terms of better options and choices. Kids need to be aware of the consequences of their choices.” And, that is an important lesson for any child.