I hear a knock against Jrue’s bedroom wall followed by a roar of anger. Short silence follows. Then, Jrue appears in my bedroom door as I am calmly folding laundry. “Mommy?” he questions. I am amused at the conversation to follow, but hides the smile threatening to break out under a mellow façade. He walks over to me and wraps his arms around my legs with the dramatic posture of a stage performer. Jrue sighs.
“I threw my milk on the floor,” he confesses.
“You threw your milk on the floor,” I repeat in a deadpan tone. “Why did you throw, Jrue? You know we don’t throw.”
“Um, because…because…” He’s fishing and frowning. I stop folding, stand stark still, and wait for the response. “Because…trick or treat…with Jai…”
“Mommy, where’s the milk?”
Jrue’s newest behavioral trend is to tattle on himself, particularly when his emotions unravel and he violates one of the primary rules of the house. Following most confessions, he adopts a pattern of made-up stories or lines of distraction to justify his actions or to rationalize with mommy. Usually, his battles involve explaining away haphazardly throwing objects, rocking on the couch, or tormenting his sister.
The incidents of motive are entertaining to me because I know the game—Jrue has invented yet another method through which to gain and hold my attention, even if he knows he could get into trouble. I laugh at this thought-process because he is replacing a certain degree of dishonesty (doing something he has been instructed not to) with an understudy (fibbing for lack of reasoning). His story creation is still so oddly novel in our house that I have not yet determined which part to deal with first.
Remarkably enough, Jrue is following along with the moral development of truth and consequence with his peers. In an article for Parents Magazine, “. . .Victoria Talwar, Ph.D., a leading researcher on the subject at McGill University, in Montreal, says that the act of manipulating the truth for personal gain ‘is a developmental milestone, much like learning to get dressed by yourself or to take turns.’ Indeed, studies show that bright kids (who are capable of making up a story and getting others to believe it) can pick up the skill as early as age 2 or 3.”
Writer Anne Krueger for BabyCenter continues. “When you catch your preschooler weaving a tall tale or denying something you know she’s done, she isn’t purposefully trying to deceive you. At this age, the line between reality and fantasy is still a bit fuzzy.”
Part of the reason why I believe Jrue fibs is both out of attention-seeking calculations and an active imagination. There also may be a bit of repetition of demeanor from other children at school, too. Jrue is big on physically and verbally exhibiting what he has done on a daily basis, so revealing his indiscretions, then furthering the misconduct or attempting to forge himself out of trouble by forming falsehoods, makes a lot of sense. “Children may tattle to exert power, to boost self-esteem, or just to get attention,” says the BabyCenter team. However, “. . .tattling also has a positive side: It can demonstrate your child’s desire to show you that she understands rules and knows right from wrong. It can also alert you to a dangerous situation that needs your immediate attention.”
While it is great that Jrue feels comfortable to tell me that he has broken a rule, I have to be sure to instill more emotional resiliency and confidence in him, especially in differentiating major issues that need mommy’s problem-solving assistance versus minor violations that have limited immediate repercussions. It is also stated to reward his honesty when he tattles, even when a punishment of the offense must be made, and to role-play the occurrence again to explore how he should act the next time in that situation. Soon, we’ll be working one-on-one with a speech therapist who will be a better gauge at just what Jrue may be asking for and enabling him to more effectively express his feelings.
In the meantime, I cannot decide if my son loves me so much that withholding information from mommy is so unbearably deplorable, or if he is so morally corrupt already that he lies (whilst struggling) to my face instead of admitting that he has no earthly idea why he does what he does.
It must be hard to be a 4-year-old.
Johnson, Sharlene K. “The Truth About Lying.” Parents Magazine, July 2013, http://www.parents.com/kids/development/behavioral/lying/. Accessed Nov. 8, 2017.
Krueger, Anne. “Lying: Why it happens and what to do about it (ages 3 to 4).” BabyCenter, n.d., https://www.babycenter.com/0_lying-why-it-happens-and-what-to-do-about-it-ages-3-to-4_65462.bc. Accessed Nov. 8, 2017.
“Tattling: How to nip it in the bud.” BabyCenter, May 2017, https://www.babycenter.com/0_tattling-how-to-nip-it-in-the-bud_63849.bc. Accessed Nov. 8, 2017.