There’s this three-year-old I know who is really special. She’s creative and funny and kind. And she’s also starting to become a little bit of a fibber. I really have no idea what started this. It’s not like she’s making up stories for entertainment – she’s telling fibs about her responsibilities.
Annie has a few chores around the house: pick up your toys, put your dirty clothes in the hamper, throw away your trash, and put your shoes in your room when you get home. Simple stuff, really. Last week, she pushed back on some of her responsibilities…typical willfulness of a kid her age. But it made me watch her a little closer when it was chore time to make sure everything got done.
Yesterday, I was doing the laundry when Annie popped her head through the door and said, “Mama! I put my toys away!”
“Really, Annabel? Wow! Will you show me?”
“Um…I need to go try again.”
A few minutes later, “Mama! I really put my toys away this time!”
We had a sit-down so I could explain to her why lying is bad, but it didn’t sink in because I caught her in more fibs a few times throughout the rest of the day. When I ask Annie why she’s lying, she gives me confusing answers, which makes me think she doesn’t quite understand what she’s doing.
She’s officially reached “warning status,” which in our house means she loses a toy or privilege whenever she’s caught being naughty – in this case, fibbing.
I wasn’t expecting her to stretch the truth until her teenage years. How the heck do little kids learn how to lie?!
Jayme Kubo says:
We were eating dinner the other night, and I asked Dylan if she liked what I made. She was very enthusiastic and made lots of yummy noises and seemed legitimately stoked on the food. When I went into the kitchen to grab something, she leaned over to Tom and said, “I don’t really like dis food dad. I don’t wanna make mama sad. And I wanna treat.” I’m more than a little scared for what the future holds. At least they’re adorable little crazy people, right?
Usually they learn very quickly that they get your attention this way and hence they get more attention. Probably just to do with a new little one in the family!
Lee Cockrum says:
It sounds like she is pretty normal to me;) There are tons of articles online that you can find that delineate how/why children lie, and that it is part of their normal development. Some of it is the fact that they don’t understand the difference between imagination and truth, as well as learning that they are separate from others and can exert their own ideas etc. She will be finr:)
Yup! Totally agree! Perfectly normal; and utterly freaking annoying. For these little fibs, we call them stories rather than a lie. If I suspect something isn’t quite right Ill ask, “are you telling me a story?” That gives an out so they can come clean. If it is, things usually end in giggles rather than me losing my cool.
I am fairly certain that most children learn to push the truth envelope at this age. My oldest did it by telling us her grandparents bought a boat and she was the first to ride in it…Maybe you could tell her the “Peter and the Wolf” story…or you could do what my Gram did.
If she felt we were telling “stories” she would ask us to stick out our tongues and say, ‘If it’s black, I know you’re not being honest.” To this day, I never wanted to see my tongue turn black! When we would not stick out our tongue, she would ask if there was something we needed to say or do. It was a way of scolding and owning that only a Gram could do.
I found this article which kind of backs up what I thought – Its normal!
Our kids have both lied to us. Some we let slide (“No I havent changed the tv channel!”), some we gently challenge (“you really brushed your teeth?”), and some we have punished for (“Did you take that without my permission?”).
In your own family there will be your own boundaries, even between 2 parents there are different lines, but as long as between you you have roughly the same moral values she’ll grow up ok.
Dont be too harsh on her yet though for 2 reasons. The first is she is only 3 and shes just starting to figure out fact and fantasy and how it can work for and against you. The second is that if you are quite hard the first time its harder to punish the second, third and forth time. You can always get tougher but its not easy to come back from a tough response.
Good luck thoug
I love your response! That is exactly how I feel!
There’s a really cute Berenstein Bears book about lying (and really every other topic). I highly recommend!!
A wonderful older man at my church who has raised 4 great kids once told me: “You don’t need to teach kids to lie. They’re born knowing how.”
And how true he was! My daughter was 2 when she told me a fib for the first time. She had run into the parking lot, a matter concerning safety, so I told her I needed to pop her bottom. She put both hands on her rear and said “No Mama! I got POO-POO in my diaper!”
So… pretty normal for Annabel, I think.
Antonia from the UK says:
Completely normal and a sign of intelligence!
Love her hamster shirt! I lied my butt off in 2nd grade. I don’t know why but it wasn’t indicative of anything. I never lied to my parents in the teenage years or to anyone as an adult. I start laughing when I try to tell a white lie. I can’t help it! Im honest to a fault. Don’t worry about Annie
At this age I have noticed that kids some times say what they wish would happen. Like she wishes she put her toys away (without actually having done it). It is definitely good to talk about truth and the importance though. With my oldest we talked about why lies tasted yucky, and when he kept lying (about big things and was trying to get his brother in trouble) we had him taste vinegar to show him how yucky lies were. It totally worked. However, his younger brother was a harder case. I just realized now that he finally out grew that stage, but he realized how much he was lying when we stopped believing him when he was telling the truth. He got in big trouble for messing with something we kept telling him was off limits and he kept blaming his 22 month old brother. I couldn’t’t believe that his brother was climbing up on top of the high bed to pull push pins off of the bulletin board (especially when we had already seen the 4 year old mess with it). I had to apologize when I found the 22 month old on top of the bed frantically pulling everything down, but it made a good lesson about how if we lie people won’t know when we are telling the truth!
Totally normal developmental milestone. My 3 and 4 year old do the same thing. However, I do not punish lying at their age because I do not think their is really any malicious intent behind their fibs (ie they are not lying to get each other in trouble). When they lie, I give them a chance to correct their lie and talk about how happy it makes mom when they tell the truth and why it’s not nice to lie. We’ve also read books abour telling the truth.
While it’s annoying when your preschooler lies to you, at least their little lies are easy to catch. I guess maybe this is just practice for the teenage years!
This is actually a very exciting (albeit annoying!) milestone. Around three years old, children develop a “theory of mind” – the recognition that other people can have mental states, preferences, or beliefs that are different than their own. It is a requirement for lying (I don’t bother lying to you if I think that you know everything I know, and vice versa).
But the good news it is also the foundation for empathy!
Yes! Love this comment.
I second that I love this comment! Such a good explanation for the mysterious goings on in Annie’s mind. Heather, I remember feeling the same way as you when you my now 6 year old son started fibbing around Annie’s age-how did he learn how to do this???!!! Luckily, it seems to be totally normal like all of your commenters are saying because my son truly understands that lying is wrong now and rarely does it. Kids love pushing our boundaries, right?
Exactly right. ToM develops between the ages of 2-4 in most kids. At first it’s more of a testing phase (“What happens if I say X, even though it’s not true?”), and then it’s more of an exploring of the ramifications of what you’ve learned. It’s part of the whole “being a little scientist” phase that pre-school children go through.
I worked in a daycare for a few years and this is totally normal behavior. I don’t think she may know exactly what she is doing, but maybe trying to push limits. I also think kids at this age often confuse imagination with reality. The best thing to do is be consistent. My mom always told us that we would be in MUCH more trouble if she caught us lying than if we came clean. After I tested it a few times, I always told the truth (when asked). I wasn’t perfect
My 4 year old does this all the time suddenly too! She usually lies to blame things on her little sister. Most recently she came and told me her sister had colored all over the toy slide downstairs….I believed her until we realized the *alphabet* was written on the slide haha. Pretty sure her 2 year old sister hadn’t done that!
My 4 year old is doing this now too. He doesn’t really understand either. One way that we’ve approached is I’ve explained to him that I will be more disappointed about him telling me he’s done something when he hasn’t than him not doing it. That seemed to hit home. I also give him the opportunity to try again when he’s initally told me a lie.
It’s still a work in progress, but it’s a start.
One of the ugly truths about kids learning to lie….is they learn it from the parents/caretakers themselves. Once those kiddos catch on to the little white lies, they can figure out that mommy or daddy wasn’t telling the whole truth so this is how I can talk too.
Yes, I believe it’s a developmental thing too, and that imagination and reality gets blurred (ok, now the song is in my head…), but we. are. partly. to. blame. No matter how little the lie.
It was a kick to the gut when we figured that out. How many lies were we telling?? OMG! We had been exaserbating the situation by telling the baby that hamburger chunks were chicken so she’d eat them. When the older daughter (then 3.5) said no, that’s hamburger, we’d insist it was chicken…wink wink. And that’s only one example. But you can see how she’d learn from our flawed leadership.
Punishment for us was family-wide. If she was caught telling a lie, she lost a toy. If she caught US lying, we had to put a quarter in her piggy bank and apologize. There is far less winking and lie-telling now, so it was a really good learning experience for all of us!
I wouldn’t worry too much, my daughter started the same thing and it must be a stage. I just try to take the opportunity to catch her in them and talk to her about why lying isn’t nice. We were in the pool last summer at the campground and a lady was swimming around with her Grandbaby. My daughter started telling her a story about how she went to the beach with her older brother (true…although it was the beach at the LAKE) and they built sandcastles (true) and went swimming and saw little fishes (true) then a shark came up and bit his arm off. (mmm.. NOT true) K was SO honest and matter of fact the woman was horrified and gasp, she thought the story was true. K just smiled and paddled away in her swimmy ring. I was SO embarrassed I apologized and told her I had NO idea where the shark part came from. We got the stink eye for the rest of the afternoon from that family.
Yep, normal. She is testing boundaries. Figuring out what she can get away with and what she cant. And lies get bigger and worse as they get older it seems. Turn the tables on her the next time she does it. Give her an example of you lying and see what she thinks about it. I have done this to my 5 1/2 y/o. Take a toy in front of her, then put it somewhere. Then claim you havn’t seen it in a LONG time. If Annie is anything like my Ava, you get the little head turn and a look, like- oh no she didn’t!! She’s using my game against me! Works quite well I must say. Tough love starts quite young these days I guess.
– Just wait until she realizes that she can blame James for a few things.
My 6 yr. old granddaughter does the same thing. We say she’s “telling stories”. When we catch her we just ask why is she telling a story. It’s funny when we find a mysterious marking on the wall or something and she says, “honestly, it wasn’t me”. There are no other little ones in the house. They are amazing little creatures.
Tangentially related: I liked this tip I read in a how-to-talk-to-children book once, that said, don’t ask questions that encourage your child to lie. It basically just means, don’t ask questions about your child’s behavior if you already know the answer. For example, if you know your child didn’t pick up her toys, don’t come up to her and say, “Did you pick up your toys?” Say instead, “I noticed you didn’t pick up your toys when it was time.” And then move on to the consequences. I know Annie isn’t doing this, but I thought that was a helpful strategy for parenting after she’s discovered fibbing.
Oh! I’m going to use this! Thanks.
I’m sure others will have said this but anyway….It is my experience, and I believe children ‘lie’ to see what will happen when they don’t tell the ‘truth’. I place lie and truth in inverted commas because this is not really what they are doing because they don’t know what these things actually mean. They have no understanding of these behaviours until they begin to carry them out and see our reaction.
Our reaction is important because it will, of course, either encourage or discourage the child from lying or truth telling. I think the more a parent explains why lying is bad (which of course it is and certainly should not be encouraged) children of Annie’s age quickly cotton on to the fact that there may be personal gains to be had out of lying.
I read one of the earlier comments which recommended confronting the child by saying ‘are you telling a story’. I think this is a good way to allow the child the freedom to fantasise and imagine, and sometimes do wrong by lying, without making it into a huge deal.
Children learn and grow physically, emotionally and intellectually by pushing the boundaries set by their caregivers. Of course, we are all trying to set a good example, but children want and NEED to see what will happen if they don’t follow the rules – in this case Annie carrying out her little chores. She’s always done it because it’s the way life is in your home. But she is now thinking outside the box you have provided for her. This is a GOOD thing! She is developing her intellect. That is all.
She will learn from consistent good example (which your whole family provide for little Annie) and one off incidents, or even an episode of ‘lying’ does not necessarily mean she will turn into a lying toe rag!
She is experimenting. Worry not.
My daughter started lying at 2 1/2 (she’s almost 3 now). She mostly lies about needing to go potty, or being wet at bedtime. It’s her way to test if she can get out of going to bed. At first we’d fall for it, but then we started requiring verification (“wait, before we go potty, let me check your diaper”), and remarking about lies: “Oh, that’s not true. You told a lie!”.
Once she started persisting (most behavior escalates in little kids, it’s just part of how they test boundaries), I started telling her the story of the boy who cried wolf, emphasizing the part where continued lying means people stop believing you even when you tell the truth. It took a while for the story to sink in, but it’s finally reducing the number of times she fibs, because now I can warn her “I may not believe you next time”, and she connects it with the story and stops, for the night anyway.:P
I think it’s a lot to do with what others above have already mentioned. Imagination versus truth and figuring it all out as they develop and learn their boundaries.
I am still working on this with my almost 5 year old.
I try a similar approach mentioned above by Molly in that I avoid asking additional questions that might lead to more fibs and if I already know the answer I rephrase it as a statement instead.
It is a punch in the gut though when they catch you in a little while lie and call you out on it though ,so I really try to be mindful of that as well. I would love to give you this awesome advice that it all gets better and they all go through a phase but I have 3 teenagers and my 4 year old. The fibs may fade once they really begin to understand truths and consequences but as they get older and go through different stages of life and hormones develop the problem can resurface and the lies could be on a larger scale.
All I can say is parenting is not for wimps! Keep up the good work, both of you!
I JUST got an email about this today based on my son’s age. Here’s what his daycare says about it…. (I promise the link isn’t spam or anything – for some reason it looks funny when pasted.)
I wouldn’t punish her – not at 3. I would, however, show sadness when you see she has lied to her. Tell her it makes you sad that she feels the need to tell you an untruth (which is a better choice than a lie) and that you will offer her a “do over” to undo her untruth. This gives her a chance to save face and know how it feels when we’re dishonest with others – and how the effect it has on others.
The white lie thing is a real dilemma, too. We try to limit the amount of white lies we tell our kid, but sometimes you just have to.
Frex, my daughter is somewhat scatterbrained about leaving her toys all over the place. Often, she’ll leave her dolls under the bed, or leave a beloved crayon between couch cushions, and then promptly demand of one of us to “Find. It. Now.”. Nine times out of then I help her retrace her steps and we find what we’re looking for.
Sometimes that fails, and she becomes quite upset about “lost [insert favorite of the moment]”. We’re talking big tears, and screaming, and tantrums. We’ve learned the only real way to talk her down is to tell her “You know, I think that toy went on vacation. Don’t worry, it will come back later. What else can we play with while X is on vacation?”. It’s the only thing that works in those cases, because it buys us some time to look for it.
We’ve had some close calls, though, involving daycare. The latest involved Dolly (her favorite doll) getting misplaced at daycare. That was a pretty traumatic two days, because even knowing that Dolly was on vacation at daycare did not eliminate the tears completely. “I miss Dolly!!! When she back? I’m sad!!!” I was this close to scouring e-bay for a replacement by the time Dolly was found none too worse for the wear, and I’m dreading the day we’ll really lose something irreplaceable, because then I’ll get found out.
I read somewhere that until they are about five or so it is more ‘wishful thinking’ than actually lying…..
Expat Mom says:
Perfectly normal stage for kids. They need to figure out the lines between reality and fantasy and see how people react to lies. Fortunately, at this age, they’re pretty obvious. What you have to worry about with teens is the expert lying, heh.
When my boys were this age, we would ask if they were telling the truth. Then we would gently correct them and point out the actual truth. “No, it’s not true that you picked up your toys. I can see them right here on the floor.”
Another stage we went through was “I was just joking!” when the lies were bigger. Now that the older boys are 6 and 7, they do receive punishment for lying, but if they tell the truth, we go much easier on them, particularly if it was a difficult thing to admit to (ie. breaking the window in the living room).