"Daddy puts on your bras sometimes," my then 4-year-old said nonchalantly as I tried on lingerie in a department store dressing room.
"Excuse me? When?" I asked, astonished.
"When you're asleep," she replied -- and proceeded to describe how, early Saturday mornings, he'd slip a bra over his T-shirt and then jump on our mini-trampoline. She stuck to her tale so adamantly that later that day, I sheepishly asked my schoolteacher husband if he'd ever jokingly held one of my lacy underthings up to his chest (he hadn't).
We laughed, but I felt unsettled. Lying to avoid punishment or to get an extra piece of pie -- that I could understand. But Lillian was lying frequently, for kicks, and she'd never admit that a made-up story wasn't true. Should I insist on honesty, I wondered, lest she develop into a pathological liar? Or let it slide, to avoid crushing her creativity?
The latter, apparently: The experts I quizzed about Lillian's tale were unfazed. "There's nothing wrong with her telling it," says Michael Brody, M.D., a child psychiatrist in Potomac, Maryland. "Very young kids don't know the difference between truth and fiction."
In fact, this type of lying can be a sign of good things. "Preschoolers with higher IQ scores are more likely to lie," says Angela Crossman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, who researched the subject. Early lying proficiency may also be linked with good social skills in adolescence.
Of course, not all kids' lies are trivial incidents you can just laugh off -- and you do want to raise a child who values honesty. Knowing the types of untruths kids tell at each stage, and why, can help you gently guide your own toward a level of truthfulness that's appropriate for his age.
Bing: How to teach your kids to be truthful
Toddlers: first fibs
It's usually pretty obvious when one of Eric Lutzker's 2-year-old twin boys, Merce and Jacob, has a dirty diaper. The trick is determining which one. "If you ask them, they'll each simultaneously say the other's name," says the Seattle dad. "They don't want to go through the rigmarole of a diaper change, so they lie about it."
Such self-serving fibs are the first kinds of lies many young toddlers try out. As any mom of a toddler or preschooler can tell you, kids as young as 3 -- sometimes even 2 -- will tell very simple lies, denying they've done something or in order to gain something for themselves.
It doesn't make sense to punish toddlers for truth bending, since they don't get that what they're doing is wrong. "If a two-year-old pulls the cat's tail and says that her imaginary friend did it, the best response is to say, 'The cat has feelings, too,' " says Elizabeth Berger, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids With Character.
"Don't get into a wrangle to get the child to admit that she was the one." An even better strategy is to avoid the showdown in the first place. "Rather than asking 'Did you break the vase?' say, 'Look, the vase got broken,' " says Dr. Brody. "If you make an angry accusation, you'll get a lie."
Video: How to detect a lie
News, stories, tips and laughs for moms & dads
Learning these 10 things is a good base with which to begin the tough preteen and teen years. Helping our children maneuver life is our jobs as parents, even if we haven't quite figured it all out ourselves yet.
We've all seen her... But should we judge her?
Unique, or downright strange?
In a few short weeks you'll be dropping your child off at college, where they'll spend the next four years learning, laughing, and probably partying. Of course, in true teen fashion, your child has already started shopping for their dorm room essentials. Don't panic just yet!
When tots burst through the door after a busy day at school, the first order of business is securing a snack.
The only thing more important than what you pack your child for lunch is what you pack it in.
Frustrated mom invents Ignore No More app
Do you have the right mix of moms surrounding you?
It's hard to keep young kids entertained while being confined indoors, but fear not, for we have some fun ideas to keep the entire family from climbing the walls during rainy days.
Back in our day, ending up with the same exact backpack as your BFF was a legitimate back-to-school concern. Nowadays? There are so many options, it's dizzying!
It is a parent’s eternal dilemma: What do I make the kids for lunch today? And tomorrow? And next week? We fall into ruts, succumb to the tried-and-true, give in to our children’s demands for junk food. No more! These school lunch ideas—for everything from sandwiches to snacks to hot meals—will freshen up your daily routine, so much so you may be tempted to make them for yourself.
Whether your kids have recently gone back to school or are preparing to go shortly, it's never too late to start thinking about how we can make this year successful and low-stress, both for our kids and ourselves. With that, here are 6 things parents might want to stop doing this year in order to make it the best one yet...for all of you!