Five & A Half Years Old
“Lying and Stealing”
Some thoughts on “Lying”
You know from your EBIPS parenting app at 4 ½ he confuses fantasy and reality, which includes what he wished happened and what actually happened. From experience, be forewarned, do not play monster games with your 4 ½ year old because in an instant he can switch from imagination to you being a real monster and suddenly attack you full force. He begins “lying and stealing” at 5.6, and typically younger than that if he has an older sibling. By age seven if he is still lying it will most likely continue. When asked children tell us the problem with lying is the punishment when caught. They believe lying is about self-protection up until age eleven when they realize lying could be harmful to another.
The backdrop to their lying is our storytelling. Until age nine he will believe our stories about how the Easter Bunny hides eggs meanwhile he has a pet Bun-Bun that doesn’t lay eggs. Then of course we have told him all about the chubby (maybe obese) Santa Claus who somehow fits down chimneys. Both the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus make it around the entire world leaving gifts for everyone on earth in one night yet they are in your local mall for photo opportunities all month.
These action words, “lying and stealing” are in quotes because they are mature explanations on young behaviors. We unfairly test children when we angrily confront the young child who has broken our favorite mug – he knows he is in trouble for the breakage and even more so for the lie that will follow but he will use the most common, self protective response’ “I didn’t do it.” Then we say, “I can tell you did it, because you aren’t looking at me.” To which we have now inadvertently taught him how to be a better liar. Next time he intentionally lies, he will do so, as we trained him, and he will look us straight in the eye.
An alternative approach would be to hold up or point to the broken mug and ask in an even tone, “What happened?” Because the child is not impacted by our anger he will simply tell us. To which we can respond firmly and kindly, “Accidents happen.” We can follow this with, “Come on, let’s go get the dustpan and broom.” Look how naturally bright he is at 5 ½ – he knows not to be straightforward when we are angry and there are threats of consequences, yet he behaves openly when we are firm, kind and have a fair solution.
Meanwhile, how many times have we told the person on the other end of the phone a white lie in front of our children or boasted something not true, exaggerated or lied to save face or to protect someone else’s feelings? We neither hide nor explain this behavior to our children while expecting them not to do what children naturally do which is imitate their environment, imitate our gestures, and then they get in trouble for it.
“Lying” is one of those EBIPS milestones that is both normal and concerning at the same time. It can be expected yet cannot be disregarded. Interestingly, children want us to be happy, and will lie to make us happy. Therefore the best story to tell them, and we are saying tell them not read to them, is the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. The story ends with George being told, “Hearing you tell the truth is better than if I had a thousand cherry trees.” This story provides them with both immunity and the return to your good standing and therefore supersedes the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, though that is also a story with a good lesson. After the telling of the story, remind him that was just a story. Discuss the difference between made up and true stories. Let him know all his caretakers must know when he is telling a story or not. The focus is not on good and bad behavior but rather on clear conversation.
Some thoughts on “Stealing”
Remember your EBIPS education on being imitation worthy. During the first seven years of life children are learning through absorbing their environment. So first, let us understand if you are placing items on your nightstand and then in the morning putting them in your pocket your children may do that very same behavior through imitation and not the intent to steal. Children have no concept of money though they most likely have heard you talk of its value.
Think about how confusing it must be to take some items home from school and the grocery store but not others. You may have a free lollipop at the check out counter but you may not have two. It is okay to take some items from Daddy’s nightstand but not his money. Many objects in the home are for everybody but some a limited or only for a sole possessor. It must all be confusing so we teach the guideline: “Ask before taking.” This generally means ask the adult before you taking something from school or another’s home, but we have generalized it in our homes to asking siblings also.
Now that he is 5 ½ he still covets objects that belong to others but he no longer grabs them the way he did when he was younger, but he still can want it and be tempted. This is all normal as it is in later years to be jealous of what others have. He is not a little adult with clear thinking, restraint and understanding of consequences as most adult have (well, should have).
Beware, adults are quick to call a child a thief and slow to let the title go. If your child takes something from another the best lesson is to have him return it. EBIPS parents are already teaching delayed gratification, and abilities such as willpower and restraint, will be acquired over his years. For now he is five and a half.
While collecting is something that develops over the years, if your child is squirreling away items that do not belong to him, consult with your child’s pediatrician.