You come out of the bathroom and, in just seconds, your tornado of a toddler has torn through your living room, leaving a trail of destruction in her path. You playfully ask, already knowing the answer, whether she is the one who made such a big mess. Then, you’re stunned as the word “no” leaves her lips in reply.
It can be surprising when you hear your child’s first fib, as she is just learning to talk, and you don’t want her to get in the habit of being dishonest. For very young children, though, parents must remember their toddlers aren’t typically lying to be malicious or sneaky. While what Baby is telling you may not always be truthful, there are many reasons for dishonesty at this stage, and few have to do with manipulation.
Why toddlers lie
If it’s a case of her not owning up to making a mess, or spilling her water, your toddler may be lying because she doesn’t want to get in trouble – or even more simply, she may just be trying to tell you what you want to hear. She may not be able to un-break that glass on the spot to make you happy, but she can tell you it wasn’t her who broke it. It isn’t lying so much as not thinking about the past at all when she tries to figure out the right answer to the question.
When toddlers fib for this reason, it means they’re worried about the consequence, helping your toddler feel safe telling the truth may help. In this case, saying, “I think I did see you dump all your toys, but that’s okay. Let’s put away the ones we won’t be using together,” may be the right way to go. By remaining calm, you’re showing Baby there are solutions to any problems she may have helped to create.
Another reason a young toddler may tell a lie is simply because she has blurred the lines between fantasy and reality. If Baby tells you the Tooth Fairy was at your house today, she may not be telling a tall tale. Instead, she may be remembering seeing the show on television, or reading a story in a book, and may truly believe she had a playdate with her favorite character. In this case, there’s no need for correction, as Baby is still a bit too young to fully grasp the line between the concepts of real and make-believe. This inadvertent type of lying will resolve naturally as she grows up.
Of course, you want your child to grow up knowing honesty is the best policy, so it’s never too soon to instill the importance of telling the truth. Start with explaining that lying may hurt people’s feelings, or put her in an unsafe situation. Offer her solutions to her problems so she doesn’t see telling fibs as the only way out of a situation. As she gets bigger, her stretching of the truth may, too, for a little while. For the time being, it’s perfectly fine to keep your reaction to some exaggerations or untruthful responses as simple as the untrue words. Save your energy for the whoppers that may come when she is a little older!