Fibs and White Lies
Why do children this age invent stories or even blatantly lie? Mostly, it's because they still have trouble sorting out fantasy from reality. For example, between the ages of 2 and 3, many children engage in "animistic" thinking, believing that inanimate objects are actually alive. "They think the trees are waving their arms, or the table can walk because it has clawed feet," says George Morrison, PhD, a professor of early childhood education at the University of North Texas, in Denton. "You have to remember that their reality is not your reality."
We adults are partly to blame for this, of course. We tell our children stories about wolves eating grandmothers and men in red suits scrambling down chimneys to put gifts under a tree. What's real and what's not? The boundaries aren't that clear yet, and won't be "until children are 4 or 5," says Morrison.
In addition, "young children usually focus on specific events that are the most important to them and ignore the stuff that isn't," says Morrison. For example, you may have spent an entire week at Disneyland, a week during which your daughter went on rides every day, or visited with cousins you don't often see. But the fact that your child dropped an ice cream cone right after she got it might be the first thing she tells her grandmother because that's something that happened directly to her and she still feels upset when she thinks about it.
Your child eventually outgrows this self-centered stage and will soon learn to tell the difference between real and imagined events. Meanwhile, revel in your little one's make-believe games, because research shows that children who engage in them are more content, self-aware, verbal, sensitive, and socially adept than those who do not, according to Dorothy Singer, EdD, a Yale University research psychologist and coauthor of Make Believe: Games and Activities for Imaginative Play (Magination Press).