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Little Tall Tales


Little Tall Tales

“I got so many presents for Christmas, I had to give half of them away.”

“My dinosaur’s name is Phoebe. She’s purple and lives in the basement."

Does your Little sometimes have a tendency to tell tall tales? You may have wondered what, if anything, to do about it. Your first step should probably be finding the reason for your Little’s lie.

First a few facts about lying in general. Some experts think that children start lying as early as six to nine months in order to prolong play or avoid transitions to feeding or sleep. Early childhood experts believe that preschoolers do not yet understand that lying is wrong or dishonest and do not have the memory capacity of older children. According to Lisa Medoff, author of 10 Ways to Deal with Lying in Young Children (, younger children simply “do not remember all the details of an occurrence, and may add some that they think makes sense.” Others have difficulty discerning between their imaginary life and actual events, and lie in a wish to make an event happen, which psychologists call “magical thinking.”

However, your Little is probably in grade school or older. Once children are that age, they are generally aware that lying is wrong. Kristin Zolten and Nicholas Long of the University of Arkansas Department of Pediatrics maintain that by this time, children like your Little may have a number of reasons for lying. Among them:

·        To avoid punishment -- Children will lie to avoid trouble.

·        To impress others—In this case, children may tell tall tales to make themselves look good.

·        To boost self esteem – Children may stretch the truth in order to get attention or praise from you or others.

·        To get something they want - Children may lie to get something they would like.

·        To protect others – Children are very loyal to friends and family members. They may lie to protect someone else.

·        Because they hear their parents lie – Children learn from their parents and other adults in their lives and thus will be more inclined to lie if they hear their parents and other adults telling lies.

Other factors that can cause a child to lie include being forbidden from an activity, having high expectations for achievement, or not being disciplined consistently.

As a non-parental role model, you may want to try some of the following tactics to deal with this subject:

  1. Point out the parts of your Little’s story that are true, and then gently note which parts come from his imagination. Remind him that right now, you need him to tell you the true parts, and if he wants to use his imagination when he plays with his toys or draws a picture, that would be wonderful. 
  2. Positive reinforcement. As sometimes lying can be a bid for attention, try to look for situations when your Little is being honest and give attention for that behavior, ignoring obvious lies when you can.
  3. If you choose to talk about lying with your Little, make sure that you are discussing why honesty is so important. Talk about why people need to have correct information to make informed and fair decisions, and why it is important for people to trust one another.
  4. Ask your librarian for stories about lying and its consequences. Read these stories with your Little and talk about what happened to the characters (Pinnochio, Diary of a Wimpy Kid for example). See if your Little can identify lying as you go through the book. 
  5. Let your Little know that it is okay to make mistakes, as long as she admits them and tries to fix them. When she does tell you the truth about misbehavior, help her make up for the misdeed, but let her know that you are proud of her for telling the truth. 
  6. Be aware of your own tendency to lie, even when lies are told to spare the feelings of others. Young children do not have the capacity to tell the difference between a lie that is selfish or hurts others, and a lie that is meant to protect someone. Your Littles look to you as a role model, so if they hear you lying, they may copy this behavior, though not necessarily with the same intention. 

In general, go with your instinct about what is appropriate. If you feel like your Little is just going through a phase of needing attention, you might want to ignore the lying and reward more positive behaviors. If you feel like your Little is getting a reputation for not telling the truth, you may want to broach the subject with him, or talk to his teacher or parent, depending upon whether you are in a community-based or school-based match.


This article was adapted from the following sites:


Kristen Zolten (M.A) and Nicholas Long (Ph.D), “Lying,”



Lisa Medoff, “10 Ways to Deal With Lying in Young Children,”


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