Truth or Lie: A Vivid Imagination Or A Big Fat Liar?

Let me share something I’ve learnt recently. Life with a toddler is a constant battle to decipher what’s classed as ‘imaginative play’ and what’s a blatant lie. As Toddler L has got older, her communication and speech has improved. Coupled with an increase in all of the crazy stuff going on in her head, I’m often left second guessing whether she’s telling me the truth or not. The number of lies she tells is on the up.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like she’s a compulsive liar. She’s not been making up alibis to the police to hide her involvement in a recent spate of local burglaries. Nor has she been actively scamming ‘lonely hearts’ via online dating sites in order to defraud them of their riches. Well, at least I don’t think she has been. It’s difficult to tell – therein lies the problem!

Instead, I’m referring to the little things. White lies. Fibs. Porkies. Whatever you want to call them. Those non-truths which do no harm or malice, but ultimately are still lies. Let me give you an example. If I ask Toddler L if she’s had a crap, she’ll often deny it. Even after looking down the back of her nappy and seeing her arse explosion, she’ll still oppose the brown evidence. Liar.

As another example, if we’re coming back from nursery and I ask her if she’s done a specific activity, e.g. playing outside or painting, she’ll say “no”. This is despite having a piece of paper which factually tells me what she’s been doing at nursery that day. Liar. I obviously have faith and trust in my daughter, but I’m a bit more inclined to believe a fully qualified and vetted key worker over a kid still a few months away from her 3rd birthday.

The line between fact and fiction is a blurry one. Arguably, it’s even more blurry when your kid doesn’t yet understand what a truth or a lie is, or where reality starts and imagination begins. Either way, it’s an interesting topic. As House famously says, “everybody lies”. A baby surely isn’t born with the ability to be a deceptive and cunning creature though, so at some point, they learn to replace truth with fabrication (or imagination).

vivid imagination or big fat liar toddler l with pinocchio nose on trike

Why? When? How? I dunno. Much like everything in life, I can only assume that this is learned behaviour as seen from the world around them – parents, friends, TV etc. Am I, in fact, largely responsible for any of the lies she tells. Daily statements such as “I’m afraid you can’t watch any more Peppa – she’s gone to bed” and “no, there’s no more chocolate, you ate it all” are fabrications I am selling to her for my own benefit. Are my little fibs in fact throwing fuel onto the fire and teaching her that lying is normal?

Then we move into the realm of imaginative play. If you think about it, imaginative play is just one big lie. That’s not a sausage, it’s Play-Doh. I’m not a dinosaur, I’m your dad. That’s not a real bear, it’s a cuddly toy. You get the gist. With this kind of blatant disregard for the truth, is it any wonder that our toddlers may tell a few porkies every now and then? If we do it as part of normal life and as part of play, how are they supposed to understand? Am I no better than Lance Armstrong, Richard Nixon or that canoe fella who faked his own death for the life insurance money?

Not all lies are the same. Telling me that she hasn’t been to sleep despite napping upstairs for two hours is obviously not true, but is something which has no impact. However, things can get a little sinister. Telling the missus that she’d fallen off the windowsill and bumped her head had me slightly flustered despite it not happening. Similarly, telling the missus that “daddy cut mine fingers” when I did nothing of the sort could result in the missus worrying for her daughter’s safety.

So, I return to my initial question – a vivid imagination or a big fat liar? At just over 2.5 years old, it’s a little too early to tell. She’s certainly not telling the truth all of the time, but does that make her a liar if she probably doesn’t understand the difference? Who knows? At this point in her life, I think she’s just stuck in this weird world of toddlerdom where she’s figuring things out and playing with different strategies to see the result.

This post may not have delivered any answers, but at least it gave me a reason to stick a Pinocchio nose on Toddler L. So, you know, swings and roundabouts, eh? Does your kid lie? At what age did they start fabricating the truth? How do you deal with your kid lying? Let me know below!

  • Haha! I know this too well. Darcie is doing the same… with blaming though… “Harry hit me”, “Harry did this”, “Harry did it”, even though we can see H is minding his own business in his car seat on the journey… Also a friend at nursery regularly gets the blame even when she’s not at nursery too. We tend to test out the theory in other cases though as having recently been ill she realised that if she said her tummy was hurting we’d fall over backwards to help her however now tries the same line now better… to which we reply with “you can’t have X now if your tummy is hurting”… amazingly she retracts the lie… Kids eh!!!

  • Martina Pichova

    My daughter hasn’t started lying yet (maybe she is behind in that bit of her development?) but her brother (6 year old) will lie constantly but very badly. He will say it wasn’t him spraying the window with water gun… even if he is the only one standing there and still aiming it at the window.

  • john adams

    First of all, AWESOME photoshop work here Dave! Sounds to me a little like testing boundaries. I reckon Toddler L is probably figuring out for herself what are untruths and what is imagination. If, however, she asks for the location of your life insurance policies, demands a canoe for her birthday and flight tickets to Pananama, you’ll know something has gone badly wrong.