A Lying Toddler

Elspeth & Fish, yesterday

For a little while now, Elspeth has been telling small lies – what I’d call fibs – about relatively harmless things. She’ll say she’s eaten all her dinner, for instance, in order to get dessert. But today she crossed a line.

We set up a fish tank yesterday, and bought some goldfish to go in it. We told Elspeth several times that she can look at the fish, but must never touch the tank or the pump, or put anything into the tank, or play with it in any way. Basically a “look, don’t touch” rule; it seemed safest for the fish.

Tonight, after finishing off my essay, I looked around for Elspeth, intending to change her nappy and start her bedtime routine. I found her standing in front of the fish tank, the surface of which was coated with fish food. She’d been ‘feeding the fish.’

Ok, now, I can understand forgetting something you’ve been told, especially when you’re not even three. But amidst stern explanations of how too much food can hurt the fish, and reminders of what we’d told her before, we included the question: “Did you put all that food in the tank?”

“No!” she said firmly, despite being caught with distinctly red hands!

It is upsetting and disappointing that she is figuring out so young that a lie may get her out of trouble. Obviously in this instance there was no chance of that; it was perfectly clear what had happened, and the lie stood no chance of being believed. But I’m sure it won’t be too long before she begins to figure out how to lie convincingly, stealthily.

For now, I am hoping that stern severity, disappointment on my behalf, and the deprivation of something she wants will teach her that lying is a bad thing. I put her to bed without reading her a story, without singing her a song, without talking to her about our day – all usual and enjoyable parts of bedtime. She just got changed and put right to bed. And she was told what she was missing out on, and why. One day, she may learn that I respect honesty more, no matter what the truth is.

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2 thoughts on “A Lying Toddler

  1. Richard says:

    Uh, bad news. Lying is built into the human brain architecture. You aren’t going to raise a child that never lies any more than you’re going to raise a child that never experiences anger.

    Your goal should not be to universally stamp out lying, but to engender consideration of the potential consequences of actions, including lying.

  2. Kez says:

    It’s all a part of early childhood development. It’s actually a sign of her intelligence as she figures out how to interact in human relationships. It’s very normal. I suppose the key is how you deal with it and what you teach her about honesty that matters. I dread the day my son learns to fib! I just hope I’ll do a good enough job of teaching him the value of honesty and integrity.

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