Between 3 and 5 years old children have an overflowing imagination, an inner world in which fantasy and reality are mixed. It is the age of magical thinking, in which children believe in the tooth fairy, fairies, elves and any inanimate being can come to life and speak.
There are times when talking to our children we must know how to differentiate between childhood fantasies and lies. Sometimes it is not easy, but before judging and thinking that a child is lying to us we must take into account their age, maturity, personality and the intentionality of what they are telling us.
To differentiate between childhood fantasies and lies, we must stop to analyze these 4 factors:
1. The age of the child. Many psychologists affirm that we cannot speak of lies with a will to deceive before the age of 6 or 7, since the very young child is unable to clearly differentiate between his inner and outer world, between his wishes and reality.
A 3- to 4-year-old child may tell us that his doll told him he wanted chocolate for dinner or that a mean green monster has thrown away all his toys because he was tired of playing with them. You will not be lying, but fantasizing.
It is from the age of 8 that we can begin to talk about lies with a clear intention to achieve objectives such as attracting attention, looking good, looking funny ... or to get out of compromised situations, that is, avoid a reprimand or responsibilities that you do not want assume.
This is the starting point, age is the key to knowing how to differentiate a childhood fantasy from a lie. The mental structures that allow the child to distinguish between his thoughts, desires, fabrications and reality do not begin to form until the age of 5.
2. Maturity. We know that each child is different and that each one matures in a different way depending on multiple factors (genetic, social, family or cultural). Age is a determining factor, but sometimes the chronological age does not coincide with the child's mental age.
3. The personality. The child's personality also provides us with information about the extent to which the child tells is a lie or the result of his overflowing fantasy, since very imaginative children could continue to fantasize beyond 6-7 years.
4. Intentionality. When a child lies, he or she is distorting a real fact, affirming or denying something with the intention of deceiving, avoiding unpleasant consequences or seeking the approval of others.
Within this point we must remember that the first lies are part of a game, they look for the adult's reaction to something that only they know is not true. The intention, then, is merely exploratory, fun and not deceptive in order to get rid of reprimands.
Having seen these 4 points, we can understand that when a 4-year-old child says he is talking to an invisible friend, he is not deceiving us but is part of the expression of his inner world where reality and imagination are mixed, a characteristic of childhood thinking.
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