Storytelling, fibs, stretching the truth or telling a lie? Teach your children the difference

Caregivers can help preschoolers learn the difference between fact and fiction.

Most young children have an unclear sense of difference between fact and fiction. Toddlers up to age 3 generally have difficulty recognizing the difference between the truth and a lie. From ages 3-5 preschoolers start to learn the difference between what is real and what is fantasy; lying at this age is quite common. Children don’t lie to be bad; they are acting their age.

Preschoolers will lie for a variety of reasons. They may be afraid of being punished or they may have gotten carried away with telling a story. Children sometimes lie to protect someone else, such as out of fear of losing a parent’s approval, or they are just “wishful thinking.” Often a child is looking for attention. Parents and caregivers can get angry or upset with children when they don’t tell the truth because they know how important it is to be truthful. What can a parent do?

Michigan State University Extension suggests that there are many ways to build the character trait of trustworthiness in young children.

When your child lies, make it very clear that you know that the child is not telling the truth. “That’s quite a story, now why don’t you tell me what really happened.” Keep your cool and RELAX. You may need a time-out to collect yourself before addressing the issue. Ask yourself what your child is feeling and try to see the situation from the child’s perspective.

Don’t put your child in a position to lie again by asking them if they did something that you already know they did, state the fact – “I see that you broke your brother’s toy.” Combine kindness with directness. Point out and praise your child when she is truthful. “Thank you for telling me the whole story.” Remember that story-telling and fibbing in preschoolers is normal. Approach each new situation as an opportunity to teach your child. Teaching positive character traits takes time!