Kids have huge imaginations and often go off on a tangent talking about being a superhero or a princess. However, sometimes kids can start to lie and think it's the same as playing pretend. Learning the difference between pretending and lying is a crucial component to your child's moral development. Age-appropriate activities that teach and demonstrate lying and dishonesty can help your child understand why lying is wrong and to not fear telling the truth.
Books About Lying
Read books with your child that demonstrate lying and its consequences. "The Berenstein Bears and the Truth" by Stan and Jan Berenstain, for ages 3 and up, is about Brother and Sister Bear lying to their mom about a lamp they knocked over. "Eli's Lie-O-Meter" by Sandra Levins, for kids 4 and up, talks about the difference between pretending and a lie. Another book to consider, for ages 6 and up, is "Princess K.I.M. and the Lie That Grew" by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, about a girl who tells one lie that grows into a big lie that she cannot get out of. Discuss the books afterward with your child, asking whether or not the consequences were worth the lie.
Do role-play scenarios with your child where she can choose between lying or telling the truth. Start by demonstrating the right thing for a child to do. For example, let your child see you pretend to write on the wall. Your spouse or partner should then come in and ask if you did it. Demonstrate honesty to your child by admitting the truth, saying why you did it and apologizing. You can then redo the scenario with a lie and demonstrate the consequences of lying. Let your child in on the action by giving her a new scenario, where she pretends to do something she should not have, and encourage her to choose on her own the right thing to do in that situation.
"Pretend or a Lie" Cards
Sometimes children blur the line between pretending and telling a flat-out lie. Help your child understand the difference by writing a "P" for "pretend" and an "L" for "lie" on two index cards. Sit across from her and give her certain phrases or scenarios that clearly demonstrate pretending or lying. Your child must then hold up the card that indicates whether you are just playing pretend or lying. For example, you could hold a teddy bear and say to it, "I'm your mommy and you're my baby," as an example of something that although not true, is just pretend. For a lying example, have your child ask you what you ate for lunch. Look at her and and say, "We had spaghetti for lunch," when in fact you had sandwiches. She should hold up the "L" card because that is a lie. Emphasize that when someone, especially an adult, is asking you something, you must answer truthfully and to not do so is lying, not pretend.
A Stack of Lies
Take out your child's building blocks and place the smallest block standing up on the table or the floor, to represent a lie. Tell your child that when you tell one lie, no matter how small it is, you have to tell bigger lies to cover it up. Then have your toddler stack bigger and bigger blocks on top of the smaller block to see how many "lies" she can stack until it all comes crashing down. Explain to your child that the more lies she tells, the bigger the crash, or consequence, when the lies comes tumbling down.