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Lies, Truths, and Your Preschooler

Has your preschooler been telling tall tales? Help your child learn to appreciate honesty.
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Superheroes, Disneyland, and Tall Tales continued...

Don't worry if your child details a fictitious trip to Disneyland. Simply respond by saying, "Well, you know, we haven't been to Disneyland yet, but if we did go, what would you want to do?"

"Whenever possible, have fun with them," Bowers says. "Join them so they can pursue what's in their imagination."

Preschoolers often stretch the truth to get your attention. Child and family psychotherapist Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent, says you can encourage your child to tell the truth.

Suggest to your child: "You have such a wonderful imagination and when you say A, B, or C, I can't always tell if it's your imagination or if it's real. The thing that is most important, that makes a person feel safe between two people, is when we tell the truth and always say what's real."

Be Positive, Don't Judge

"It's very important to be able to gently, without judgment, put accountability where it belongs," Walfish says. "You have to bust your child in a nice way."

Use language your preschooler can understand. For example, you might say: "It's hard sometimes to tell Mommy that you did it. You say the cat did it because you're worried about Mommy being mad at you. But you and I both know the cat can't do it. I'm the kind of Mommy that wants to hear that you did it and then we can talk about other ways you can get my attention."

Altmann recommends using positive phrasing. "Say, 'It's important to tell the truth,' instead of saying, 'Oh, you lied.' I would urge parents not to say that," she says.

Stay away from the negative stigma of calling your child a liar, Walfish says. It labels the child, makes her feel bad and like she has to hide things from you.

"You want to keep the connections open so that your child can tell you anything," Walfish says.

You don't have to wait for these types of situations to crop up. Bowers suggests reading books together that encourage honesty, such as The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Eva Marie Fredric, a producer in Los Angeles, had a problem with her 3-year-old telling fibs about what he had done. She was able to stop him from fibbing by using a cat hand puppet and a different voice to get him to "fess up to the truth."

At the puppet's prompting, he admitted to things he did, apologized, and gave his mom a big hug. "It actually made him feel safe to tell the truth," Fredric says. "He didn't worry about getting in trouble."

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Reviewed on January 16, 2012
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