Your toddler is not a liar.

Your toddler is not a liar.

How many times have I seen and hear this, in movies and in real life.  Parents telling their toddlers: Don’t lie to me. I know you broke that vase!   Stop lying, and tell me where you hid Mr. Teddy we need to wash him!  Why are you being such a liar at a very young age?

Isn’t it frustrating and disappointing whey they lie?

How can they learn to lie at such a young age?  If I catch my toddler lying this early, does that mean he’s going to be a professional liar when he grows up?  Help!


It doesn’t really mean they’re lying and that they are masking the truth because they want to avoid being punished or simply because they didn’t want to upset us.  Don’t we do this adults?  Don’t we lie because we want to avoid hurting people we love? Don’t we lie to avoid getting fined or punished?  I am not saying it is OK to lie but I am just saying that in reality, lying is part of life and if we adults can’t avoid this many times, why expect for toddlers to become stronger than us and not lie at all?

I read a blog article of a mom (who shall not be mentioned) about her 2yr old girl playing with other children in a park.  One playmate (a boy slightly older than her) approach the girl and asked for one of her favorite doll.  The 2yr old girl quickly hid the doll behind her and said she doesn’t have it. Seeing this, the mom hurried to her girl and said “What did I tell you about lying? I told you not to lie.  Your hiding your doll behind your back.  We can all see her legs coming out from your back.  Let your friend play with it for a while.  You’re not just becoming a liar but also a selfish one”.  Embarrassed about her 2yr old girl’s behavior,  she proceeded on commenting to the parents who were also watching the kids play; “She’s terrible. I don’t know where she learns how to lie. I kept on telling her that lying is bad.  I guess she’s in that age.  But I really have to put a stop to this”.

I don’t know if I am the only one seeing something wrong with this. But I didn’t agree on how the situation was dealt.  The 2yr old girl loves her doll very much.  She might have known how this boy treats toys.  She might have seen him play with his action figures being thrown up in the air and letting it fall – which is how boys would normally play with them.  But for her, this is no way how to treat a beautiful doll… much less her doll.  And it terrorizes her to see her much loved doll to be thrown up and in the air and fall flat in her face.  So to protect her doll from this rowdy little boy,  she said she doesn’t have it.  Not telling the truth is her only way to save her doll!  In her small mind, it was her only escape.  Won’t adults do the same given a similar situation?  Of course with something more valuable than a doll. But for a 2yr old, her doll is more valuable than an iPhone or than a Prada dress.  She’s not being a liar.  She’s protecting something precious for her.

Sometimes we do need to stop and try to see the world the way our little ones see it, to understand their behavior.  Why they acted one way and not the way we’d want them to.

Another classic example is when a child breaks the mom’s favorite vase.  The mom would see the broken vase in horror and would ask her child if he broke it and the child would say no with the flower still in his hand.  What could really have happened is that the child was admiring the flower and wanted to touch it but was too clumsy and pushed the vase accidentally.  Obviously, it fell on the floor and broke. The mom normally ask the child “Did you break the vase?” and the child would adamantly say no.  So what happens next?  Mommy says “Don’t lie to me, I know you did it! Stop lying because I know you did it”.

Why does the child can’t just say he did it?  Naturally, he’s scared of getting punished and most of all, he’s scared of upsetting his mom with his own doing.  He didn’t want to be “the cause” of mom getting upset.  For obvious reasons, he loves his mom.  And children more than anything else, loves to see us happy. They love to make us smile.  And so realizing that being the probable cause of mommy becoming sad is not acceptable to the child so he tries to cover up what happened.  This is all his small mind can do best to protect his mom from being sad.  And most probably to avoid getting punished.  Who wants to be punished anyways? Wouldn’t we do something as well to avoid punishment?

I am not trying to justify thy lying per se but I am just trying to know where the lying is coming from and how and why these little minds resort to this.  And this way we can better deal with the situation and not just attack the kids with the words lying and liar and other not so nice words.  They don’t even know what’s lying and a liar and we are already making them believe that they are those words.  Much more, they don’t even understand their own emotions.  When a 3yr old boy broke mommy’s vase, he could be feeling sadness or disappointment with himself or fear of mommy’s punishment but he doesn’t even know what are those.

I just don’t like name calling on kids.  Kids believe in what their parents tell them.  So if we constantly tell them they are liars or they are being bad, they’d believe that and they’d think they ARE these things.

So what am I suggesting to be done when faced with a toddler that is not telling the truth in a given situation?  Talk to the child and help them identify what they feel and then recognize it.  Cryptic? Taking the first example above, the mom could have asked her child why she doesn’t want to let the boy play with her doll.  The girl might not even able to express her fear of how the boy would treat her doll but the mom can tell her child something like “I know you don’t want Lani (supposed name of the doll) to get hurt.  But you can still let your friend play with her while you supervise her.  We’ll tell Carl (supposed name of the boy) to take care of her and treat her well, otherwise, we’ll tell him he cannot play with Lani.”.

Just omit the word lying and the phrase your’re being a liar.

On the second example, the conversation can probably go like this:  Mommy:  Mommy is really sad about the vase.  It’s my favorite vase.  It was a gift given to me by your grandma.  I know you’re sad too.  You didn’t mean to break it, did you?  Child: (would most likely nod in silence with a worried face)  Mommy:  Let’s see how we can fix this. (Offer something that the child can help mend what has broken or if it’s beyond repair let the child help in cleaning up by holding the plastic bag or the garbage can while mommy collects the pieces)

This way, we are teaching the child to do something about what has been done incorrectly and be able to feel adequate on correcting his clumsiness.  And most importantly, we can show them that it is better to tell the truth and that by telling the truth, they don’t get punished (and then we have to be true to our words – we should set a good example, yes?).

Preachy me?  No, I’m not trying to preach, just offering some alternative avenue on dealing with this kind of situations.  I believe toddlerhood is a sensitive period of child development.  In this period, they are very maliable and their brains absorbs just about anything we teach directly or indrectly.  And we’d want to be really careful about what we tell them (or say when they are around) and show them.

I’ve heard a 3yr old say “I don’t want to sing because I don’t sing well.”  Do you really think a 3yr old would already know the standard of good singing or not?  Children at this age, should just be enjoying singing on their own way, their own style.  Oblivious to judgement.  Because they too, don’t judge.  Children loooves the way their parents sing to them no matter how bad their parents sing.  Simple because what they appreciate is the attention, the fun spending time with the people most important to them at that point and most of all, the love behind those tunes or mistunes.  So how can 3yr old say he doesn’t sing well?  He’s heard of it from someone he trusts and thus, believed it.  And that is sad.

So mommies, I know it’s tough to control our nerves when after a long day of hard work, we’d be greeted with a broken vase or empty cookie jar just before dinner and our toddler would vehemently shake their head to deny they weren’t the culprit inspite of the flower from the vase is in their hand being hidden at their back or the cookie crumbles on the side of their mouth and on their shirt. But we do need to try and control ourselves not to utter words that may be harmful to their crucial development.  Let’s try to remember that the next time this kind of situation occurs, our toddler is not lying because they are little devil liars at such a young age but because they are trying to tell us something in their own clumsy way.  Remember, their vocabulary and perception about their feelings are still very limited thus, they can’t just explain things to you and would resort to pretending that the misfortune that happened didn’t happen at all or hide the obvious in order to save something or someone very important to them.

Your toddler is not a liar.

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