Imagine this scenario – Your 4 year old son enters the living room, sits down and his mouth is covered with chocolate even though you warned him not to eat chocolate and to have a proper meal. When you confront him, he insistently refuses to tell you the truth. He starts inventing an imaginary story that his astronaut friend is the one who ate the chocolate. At this point, you dished out your verbal abuse under the guise of guidance by telling him “I’m trying to help you become a better person and you are lying!”.
Is he lying or just trying to grab our attention by being imaginative? A question that is asked by many parents when their child begins story telling. The stories inside our children’s head are the scripts that drive them to play.
Children start their imagination phase by the age of two. During this phase, they invent stories and cannot differentiate reality from fantasy.
“The Power of Magical Thinking,” Shirley S. Wang explains, “For years, imagination was thought of as a way for children to escape from reality, and once they reached a certain age, it was believed they would push fantasy aside and deal with the real world. But, increasingly, child-development experts are recognizing the importance of imagination and the role it plays in understanding reality”.
Unfortunately, sometimes we seem to operate under the illusion that we have to raise perfect children by trying to eliminate their imagination because we think that we are protecting them from growing up and being liars. Sadly, we confuse imaginative play with lying.
Imaginative play is necessary to develop children’s mental processes and it helps children learn to monitor their emotional reactions. As parents, not only do we have to encourage imaginative play, but we can also get involved in it and play with them.
Children’s imaginary friends are part of a healthy childhood development which helps them learn more about their environment and build the connections in their brain to practice independent, autonomous thinking, so they gradually develop decision-making skills and master self-discipline. Parents should encourage their children’s creative and imaginative processes rather than threatening them with punishments.
“Lying is actually typical, age-appropriate behaviour for children throughout certain stages of childhood,” says Barb Hacker, in her article “Children and Lying.” Many children lie either to avoid punishment or to make their stories sound more interesting. Parents’ role here is to help the child to distinguish fantasy from reality and guide them that it’s not appropriate to mix between them. A child might lie when he doesn’t want to sleep early for instance, so he’ll pretend to be hungry to emotionally blackmail his mother and that will distract her for couple of minutes until he watches his favourite cartoon.
When the child starts lying to make his stories sound exciting and he most probably is making it a habit in every gathering, parents should stress on the importance of honesty in any relationship and guide the child to understand the consequence of a broken trust and how people can suffer from it.
The best way to teach honesty is being honest to children as well as others and set guidance for children to emulate. However, if parents lie to their children they are most likely to be not realistic by expecting their kids to be honest, that would be a bit of a contradiction. An example that is very common is when the phone rings, your child answered the phone and you asked him to make up a story and tell whoever is on the phone that you are not available.
All children are wired and ready to learn during their progress through childhood; it is important for parents to acknowledge and understand when children are using their imagination.
“Your story was amazing, When did that happen”, ”was it in the school, in the house or in your mind?”, “your imaginative story is awesome”. Talking about your child’s imagination helps in defining its place in reality. When you acknowledge their imagination, you are basically stimulating it and teaching them to value honesty by taking responsibility that will help them see the fine line between lying and imagination.
The article was written in support of Arabian Child organisation. Visit www.arabianchild.org for more information about early childhood education in the United Arab Emirates.
A loving mother of a son who has changed her life and put it into perspective. Ayesha is a senior social media specialist, a Global Leader for young children in the Arab region, and a writer in few Arabic publications. Her column is written in collaboration with the Arabian Child organization, and offers inspiration and an in-depth exploration of early childhood development.