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When young children lie or are drama queens

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Dear Dr. Laura,
What do you do when your four year old lies to you?


Lying is developmentally normal for a four year old. It is much more common in children who are punished, because they lie to avoid punishment. But even kids who are not punished do not want to disappoint us, but do want what they want. They WISH that both things could be true at once. So when we ask "Did you wash your hands?" they answer "Yes." What can you do?

1. Don't ask, tell. "I see your hands are dry."

2. Recognize their wish. "I know you wish you had washed your hands."

3. Stick to your limits. "I know you wish you had washed your hands, but they are still dry. Let's go get those germs off!"

Dr. Laura,
What about when the lie can't really be a wish. My 2.5 year old (whom, don't tell her but is a complete drama queen) will tell me that she's hurt or has a boo boo when I know for a fact she hasn't had any opportunity to hurt herself any time recently. Her current thing is there is something in her eye, she gets something in her eye probably 10 times a day. I try to respond with concern each time and attend to what ever need it is that she's trying to fulfill but I'm running out of patience. - Sarah



What you are doing is terrific -- responding with concern and love when she says something hurts. Your daughter is not lying -- she is telling you she hurts. Maybe, in fact, something does hurt in her eye, such as an eyelash that is rubbing or soap that splashed, or fumes to which she is sensitive.

Or maybe what hurts is something less clear, and she just can't express it. It might be that she is so little and needs you so much, and that scares her. How else can she express that except by asking you over and over again to demonstrate that you really do care when she hurts and you really will come to help and protect her?

Two year olds have big feelings, because they are pretty new and small in the world and it's a big, scary world. They don't have the frontal lobes to manage those feelings, but every time we soothe their hurts (even when we can't verify that there is pain, objectively), our child develops the neural pathways to soothe herself. So to "over-react" is developmentally normal.

What we think does come out in our behavior and tone, whether we are aware of it or not. I wonder what would happen if you opened your heart to the idea that your daughter is showing you her pain, even if it has nothing to do with the boo boo of the moment. Maybe a week of complete empathy, without judging her as a drama queen, would allow her to feel that her pain was completely "heard" and fill her cup. Good luck! - Dr. Laura

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