When you catch your precious darling scribbling on the walls with a crayon, then she blames the mess on her invisible friend, it is nearly impossible to resist the urge to giggle. While your first inclination might be to march her straight to her room with a strong reprimand, just remember that storytelling, boasting, denial, exaggerating and cheating are all part of the learning process. As natural scientists, 2- to 5-year-olds are interested in testing and expanding their boundaries. They are also saturated in a fantasy world where horses fly, cars talk and superheroes save the day, which makes distinguishing between fact and fiction a real chore. Preschoolers are creative liars, so you have to be a bit more clever in order to raise a child who values honesty.
The age-old whisper game Telephone not only enhances memory and concentration skills, but it also teaches preschoolers not to embellish the stories they hear. A 2-year-old can play a simple version of this game, such as “My favorite color is purple, and I like pink elephants.” As your child’s skills grow, weave longer, vivid stories, such as, “There once were two blue monkeys who loved playing in the marshmallow forest and eating pepperoni pizza.”
2. Two Truths and a Lie
It’s easy to make up a number of variations on the popular news headline game many radio stations play. Throw out three facts about activities that happened in your child’s day but embellish one of them, such as going to the park instead of school or wearing a red shirt instead of an orange one. See if your child catches the lie, then talk about how it feels when someone says something untrue about you.
3. Resist Me
You can adapt a standard psychology experiment to test your preschooler’s trustworthiness. Hide a favorite toy that makes a distinct noise under a blanket, then tell your child if she can guess it, she will earn a prize, such as an extra book at bedtime. Before she can guess, make up an excuse to leave the room and, from a discreet distance, observe if she glances under the blanket. If she’s a peeker, don’t worry since she is in good company. A 2002 study published in Law and Human Behavior found that while only 37 percent of the 3-year-olds steal a glance, a whopping 86 percent of 4- to 7-year-olds cheat to ensure they receive their reward.
4. Sheep or Wolf
Even young children can begin to understand religious tenets, such as “Thou shalt not lie.” Sharing the story, “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” is an excellent introduction to moral values, such as honesty and integrity. After reading the story, give your child a picture of a sheep and a wolf. Ask her to hold up the sheep card when she hears an honest statement, such as “Someone who admits when she has been naughty,” or the wolf card when she hears a deceptive statement, such as “Someone who blames others.”
- Kaboose: Why Kids Lie and How You Can Encourage Honesty; Deborah Bohn
- Law and Human Behavior: Children’s Conceptual Knowledge of Lying and its Relation to Their Actual Behaviors: Implications for Court Competence Examinations; Victoria Talwar et al.
- NYU Child Study Center: The Preschool Years: Expectations and Challenges; Anita Gurian, PhD
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