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My 3.5 years old recently started lying. Up to now, they where mostly "I didn't do this" type of lies. For exemple, he would unroll the toilet paper in the bathroom or put play-doh in the washer (!) and then pretend he didn't do it. Sometimes he would even come get me to look at his wrong doing and then tell straight to my face that he didn't do it. I didn't make a big deal of it because I figured he was experimenting with lies and it was pretty much inoffensive. My typical reaction was to say something like "look, I now you did this, now help me clean". He then stopped pretending he didn't do it, helped me clean and sometimes said he was sorry.

But yesterday, there was an incident at daycare. When I picked him up, there was a bracelet hidden in his case. He said a friend (let's call him John) gave it to him. Something was strange with his behaviour but I went with it and he brought the bracelet home. Once home, he wanted to hide it in his room and didn't wear it at all, which I found suspicious. This morning, at breakfast, he asked where was his bracelet and when I asked once again where he got it, he finally admitted that the bracelet belongs to Claire. John took it from Claire's case and gave it to my son, then he hid it in his case. Claire was giving the bracelets to her friends and my son wanted one, John knew and they did this.

So I explained to him how it was wrong to take other people's things and that he will have to give the bracelet back and apologize to Claire, which he did. I think he understood this part well (clearly he knew it was wrong, because he lied about it). However, I'm a bit at lost when it comes to make him understand that lying was also wrong. He lied to me by saying that John gave it to him and not saying the truth that they took it from Claire without her knowing. I think he doesn't really understands the words "lie" and "truth" and I struggle to find simple words to explain to him that lying is wrong, it upsets people and it could get him in much more trouble. It's somewhat of an abstract and new concept for him.

How can I address the lying? Do you know of any good resources (books, etc.) that might help?

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Before I answer your question, I want to point out that there is a difference between normal behavior and acceptable behavior. Normal is what is typically found for a particular group of people, eg. three year olds, 18 year olds, 35 year olds. Acceptable means that is good/moral/ok.

With that being said, this is normal behavior at this age. He has learned that it is possible to say something that is not true and is experimenting with that concept. It is not, however, acceptable behavior as you obviously understand and tried to address with him.

As for how to address it, one way is some variation on the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Explain that it is import for you to be able to trust him so that when he tells you important stuff, you believe him. You can also ask him how he would feel if you lied to him. If you told him you would take him for ice cream and then didn't. That would make him feel yucky right? You don't do that to him because you don't want him to feel yucky about you.

Three and a half years old is probably a little young to get into deontology and the categorical imperative, but give it a few years and you can try that too. ;)

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