• Suzanne Axelsson

Telling stories... Truth and lies...

To be honest, this is something I have struggled with my entire life...

As a child and as an adult we are being constantly reminded about the need for truth and telling the truth... yet the reality is - this is a lie. Our togetherness, our social fabric, requires fabrications, lies and untruths to be fully functional. I have learned this the hard way as an autistic person with a compulsion to do what is right... and therefore telling the truth was a part of that package.

To be honest... telling the truth got me into more trouble than telling lies.

People don't really want to know honest opinions... they want to feel good, but they also want the truth, so this feel good white lie stuff gets categorised as truth. And that is just so incredibly confusing.

When working with young children we can often find them engaging in telling fibs and fabricating stories... and too often being told off and told that telling the truth is important. I wonder, really, if this is a smart thing to do? Shouldn't we instead explore what is the truth with children, and when is it OK to lie and when is it not? And at the same time to help the children hone their critical thinking skills. The last few years, and definitely the last few days, have shown how lies and truth have become so polarised that, for far too many people, it has become impossible to distinguish between them. Which might seem like a ridiculous statement to write... but the fact that people can only see that truth is of value and lies are despicable makes admitting that what you believe is possibly lies so much harder, and seeking to discredit other opinions becomes much easier for an sense of personal well-being.

Maybe if we, as educators and parents, were more honest about the reality of lies and truth-telling and that much of what is said is shared to make others feel good, or create a sense of belonging, or identity... and that the truth might offend, or cause an individual to be excluded in a place they want to be included, or put you in danger by revealing how you truly identify... Maybe if we explored this grey area more, and used critical thinking skills to make informed decisions, it would not be so easy for so many people to be sucked into a saga of lies dressed as truth.


Lying requires theory of mind. A child needs to understand that others are not thinking the same as them in order to lie, and usually it is around 3-5 when children start to practice their fibbing skills... often hilariously obvious in the beginning.

Tricking others is a learned skill. Deceiving others can mean benefits, or survival...

Look at stories we tell children... in the Gruffalo the little mouse tells a whole bunch of lies to avoid being eaten, as do the Billy Goats Gruff (although I still don't understand why they sent the little goat first risking his being eaten when they knew that the big one would be able to defeat the troll - was this a choice to not only beat up the troll physically but to psychologically beat him too??? - and how do we feel about this?)... So it's not just the big bad wolf dressed as grandma and the bad characters trying to deceive... it's everyone, and for different reasons... And maybe this is something we need to be lifting... when is it appropriate or necessary to lie and deceive and when is it not... thinking of the fable of the boy who cried wolf..


Then there are questions about make-believe and imagination... how much of this is truth and how much is lies? Or is it something else completely?

There are those who refuse to bring the magic of Santa Claus into their children's lives because they feel it is deceptive... while others relish in the magic and imagination.

Imagination is incredibly important... it is the ability to think beyond what we know, it is the energy that fuels creativity and invention.

If truth is based on evidence and what we know... then what is imagination? Lies that can possibly be transformed into truths? Lying is an important function. It can keep a person safe. Often young children lie because they are afraid of what others might say or do if they admitted the truth.. so it is the fear we need to address rather than the lying. How can we make the child feel safe enough so they do not feel compelled to lie to feel safe? Also the line between reality and imagination for young children is much more blurred than that for adults... so lies can have that spectacular dynamic of play... where make-believe characters can take the blame.


When I ask young children about whether fairies are real, it is obvious that children know the truth about the fairies, but they also know the truth of play.

"Fairies are real. Pretend real"

So. in the realm of play, fairies exist for real.. and the beauty of conversing with children is that dialogues happen in that realm too.


So they next time you observe a young child lying. Pause a moment. And think about all the learning that is going on. And Reflect on how to respond appropriately.




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