Toddlers have very active imaginations. My 2-year-old daughter comes up with some pretty tall tales and, while I know they aren’t malicious, I’m conflicted about whether I should draw a line when it comes to “fanciful fibs.” I don’t want her to grow up thinking it’s acceptable to lie; however, I’m also quite certain that at the age of 2, she doesn’t even understand what a lie is. How and when can you teach a toddler not to do something she doesn’t even realize she’s doing?
Most of Reese’s “stories” are amusing. For example, when it was storming Tuesday night, she told me she’d seen a big pink, white and purple monster dancing in the rain in our backyard. Of course, her fabrication of a mythical creature cutting a rug in a downpour didn’t hurt anyone and, at the very least, her creative description made me chuckle. I even perpetuated the falsehood a bit by asking Reese about the monster’s mood and whether it had any desire to come in out of the rain.
There are other times, though, when her fibs aren’t funny and, to me, seem to come out of left field. For example, I always ask Reese to help me clean up after coloring time. The other day, she told me all of her crayons were gone because the dog had eaten them. I could plainly see Abbie hadn’t wolfed down any art supplies, so I asked Reese if she fibbed to avoid having to help me clean. Even though it was clear I knew the truth, she was insistent that the dog had eaten her crayons.
Before bed one evening, Reese asked to watch television. I declined her request and suggested we read a book instead. She told me we couldn’t read because Daddy had taken all of her books. The explanation behind this one was a bit clearer — she wanted me to believe reading was an impossibility so she could watch TV. Still, I wanted Reese to understand it’s not nice to say things about people that aren’t true. I took her into the living room, where I pointedly asked my husband whether he had hidden all of Reese’s books. He looked confused and assured me he hadn’t. I filled him in on Reese’s claim and then told her, “Daddy says he did not take your books.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, as if she suddenly realized she’d been mistaken. “I’ll get one!” And she ran off toward her bookshelf.
Recently, I spotted a mosquito bite on Reese’s leg as I dressed her after a bath. I tapped it and asked if she got the bite at recess. She shook her head and told me, “Gracie did it.”
Grace is her “best friend” at nursery school. I, of course, knew the bite had come from an insect, not a child. I told Reese a bug had bitten her and asked her why she blamed it on Grace.
“Because,” she replied, “Gracie bites.”
Again, from what I could gather, this fib served no purpose. It didn’t get Reese out of a sticky situation or put her any closer to a desired goal, such as being able to watch TV before bed.
In situations like that, I’m confused about how much time and effort — if any — I should funnel into teaching her about lies and why we don’t tell them. I know she won’t comprehend a lesson on the importance of telling the truth, but if I put it off, am I risking the development of an unhealthy habit at a young age?
For now, I suppose we’ll just wait it out. I fully understand that the line between fantasy and reality still is blurry at this age. Perhaps in a year, I’ll develop a more direct approach for quashing fibs. In the meantime, I wouldn’t mind hearing another story or two about colorful, frolicking monsters whooping it up outside our windows. Somehow, the stories I edit for the newspaper about government meetings and tax digests just aren’t as entertaining.