Imagine That!

On Saturday Hannah built an enormous snowman.  Bigger than any that she had ever built.  Then she came inside and had hot chocolate with HUNDREDS of marshmallows.  After she finished her delicious hot chocolate (that she made all by herself by the way) she played “roll the ball” with Luke where she taught him to push the ball back to her, in between her legs.  If it went between her legs he got a point, if it didn’t, he lost a point.  She won that game but he was getting better the more he played.  Later in the afternoon, she played Candy Land with Tim and me.  She won six times in a row.

Sounds like a fun day for a five year old, doesn’t it?

The problem?

None Of It Actually Happened.

When her babysitter asked her Saturday night what she did that day, this fabrication is what came out of her mouth!  In reality, Hannah was sick. She stayed in her pajamas the entire day and moved from the couch to the floor all day to draw or play with her My Little Pet Shop.  And that’s it.

This is not the first “story” Hannah has told recently.  She tells me little stories all day that I know aren’t true but when I ask her if they really happened she says, “Yes Mommy! For Real!  It really happened!”  So I let it go.  Her stories don’t hurt anyone.  They aren’t malicious or mean spirited.  I wouldn’t go so far as saying she’s “lying” but she certainly is telling some Tall Tales.

What to do.  What to do.

I have always encouraged Hannah to use her imagination.  We put on puppet shows.  We play doctor, diner, teacher, mommy, veterinary hospital and pet shop.  She sits for HOURS with her dolls and plastic toys making up stories.  She sits in her room with her books and the words she can’t read, she makes up, to become the story she wants it to be.  And now, the stories have creeped into her own life.  And it makes me wonder (go figure).

I can’t help but think that the stories she tells are a reflection of what she wishes was going on in her life.  I’m sure she WISHES she had been able to go outside and build a fantastic snowman instead of being sick inside.  Maybe she is looking forward to teaching Luke little games like roll the ball.   How do I encourage her to TELL me these “dreams” instead of pretending they happened and telling other people they did?  How do I teach her that stories are wonderful to create but when it comes to her, she needs to be truthful?  Where do I draw the line?

I’ve tried to communicate that it isn’t necessary to make up stories.  That she can feel safe with the truth. Some of the fibs she tells are more along the lines of denying having done something that I am certain she’s done.  Teaching Luke to burp for instance.  I’ve asked her not to, but she finds it hilarious so she does it against my wishes.  I’ll hear him burp from the kitchen and I’ll ask her if she told him to do it.  “Oh no mommy!  I told him to moo like a cow but he doesn’t understand moo like a cow, so he burped. I bet if I ask him to moo again, he’ll burp so you can see that he’s confused between mooing and burping.” See, she doesn’t just deny… she makes up an elaborate story to go along with it. I pry over and over to get her to be honest with me.  I tell her I won’t be upset if she tells me the truth, that she’ll feel so much better having said what actually happened, but she knows I’ll be disappointed.  So she clams up and sticks to her story.  A few times she’ll come to me an hour after the story was told and says she just “remembered” that, oh yes, she had told him to burp.  She was just “confused”.  And I hug her and tell her I’m so proud of her for telling me the truth in hopes that she’ll keep it up.

But I don’t want to hinder her imagination.  I want her to know the right places to weave these stories into life.  I want her to know when it’s wrong, where the line needs to be drawn.  She’s five.  I’m not worried about cheating and plagiarizing and other forms of lying (yet).  I just want to trust her.  I don’t want to fear the stories she tells at school about what goes on at home.  She’s already gotten one of her grandmothers in trouble for telling me that “Grandma put makeup on my cheeks and lips before we went out because she said you ALWAYS have to wear a little makeup for special occasions”.   I was furious.  I’m glad I found the strength to bring it up with Grandma because I found out sweet Hannah had made up the story.  Grandma hadn’t said that.  And Hannah hadn’t worn any makeup.  Yikes.

I’m sure there’s no clear cut answer here.  When to stop the stories from being told.  How to prevent the stories from growing out of control.  It’s normal, I know.  All little kids want things to sound bigger, better, more exciting.  They want to be the best, the strongest, the most experienced.  But there has to be a limit.  A stopping point.  Where stories can be told, but with more fact than fiction.



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15 responses to “Imagine That!

  1. Oh my! She sounds wonderful. What a treat to have such a gifted storyteller in your household, besides you of course. She has a wonderful imagination. As she grows up she’ll begin to see the difference between stories and lies. For now enjoy them!

  2. Nicki

    You made me laugh with the mooing/burping problems/confusion.

    Trust me when I say that we just need to keep telling our children that truth is what is expected. We also need to be cognizant that they will elaborate on th truth occasionally.

  3. This is priceless! As a mom I know that I am so concerned about teaching them right from wrong and helping them become responsible, creative and beautiful adults. But sometimes, I have no idea how to do it! My oldest is also a wonderful storyteller, but I don’t want to crush his creativity by telling him everything is lying. I came across a wonderful set of books by Joy Berry (Help Me Be Good series), the other day about teaching our kids how to be good. Some of the titles are complaining, lying, stealing, being bossy… But, the one on lying I thought handled it quite well – the author differentiated between a fantasy (a made up story), a mistake (saying something you didn’t know wasn’t true), and lying. I’m thinking about trying to find a used set of these books because they explained things really well and might make my job easier!

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with what Nicki has said. We have to consistently remind our children that we expect truth from them and nothing less. However, I am guilty of being way too literal and my kids have suffered. Well, their creativity has suffered (I fear). And that said, these stories of Hannah’s are a real gift. Something to surely be cherished. Something she can always carry with her. Maybe you try to teach her to tell the stories and then admit they are, indeed, stories. To be clear that she is elaborating (when she tells the babysitter stuff, and such).

    I really have no idea, Becca, as this is SOOOO far out of my realm. The stories part, that is. The honesty part? I think we are all in that one together.

  5. We’ve got “one of those” in our home too. Sometimes I’m disturbed and sometimes I am amazed.


  6. I like what Nicki said also.

    It’s so hard to encourage them to use their imagination, but to help them draw the lines between using your imagination and lies. It’s such a tough thing.

  7. My kid likes to say hours later “Oh, yeah. I forgot I did that” or “Oh, right. So that’s what you meant” when we press him about a lie.

    I would encourage her make story book based on the make believe stories. I used to do that with Javi. He’d tell me some tall tale and I’d ask if that’s real or pretend. Eventually he learned that if he admitted what’s pretend, I’d help him draw it or write it, so he began distinguishing the two.

    Good luck – and definitely enjoy your little artist!

  8. Ooh, Becca, you’ve got one smart little girl on your hands. (Like Mama, like daughter, of course!)

    I was a teller of tales as a kid. My imaginary play sometimes spilled over into my real world. When I was about Hannah’s age, I told a friend that we were moving. I described our new house and yard elaborately. She then told her father, a colleague of my dad’s, who mentioned it at work. Needless to say, my dad wasn’t pleased with me.

    My parents’ approach – which apparently worked since I am now the world’s worst liar – was exactly what Nicki recommended: constant affirmation of the importance of truth, but with lots of room through creative play for my imagination to keep growing.

  9. Hey! Just to let you know that you have been awarded a Beautiful Blogger Award… Link back to my blog to find out the details…

  10. If only there was a clear way to right or wrong with children! Thank you for sharing your doubts and fears, and helping me….once again, to realize we all have them. I also love the input and support you get from the others in the community – it helps paint a realistic picture hearing how other parents deal with similar issues.

  11. It is so hard to see our children do things and not imagine them as adults doing the same thing, which would be awful. Trust me, I know. My daughter went through a stealing phase where stuff from other peoples’ houses showed up in ours and it was excruciating for me, especially because I imagined her, as an adult, in prison stripes!

    But, as someone said, channeling this fertile imagination seems to be the best way to go!

  12. I think emphasizing the truth and encouraging time for story telling has worked well for me. In our house some of my kids would tell their tales as their “dreams” from that night. I loved hearing the elaborate tales.

    My 5 year old is a real story teller when you ask him about his day. But his are about becoming a monster and walking to the moon, so the line is clear between story telling and reality. (Or he is already clinically insane, take your pick).

  13. I vote for fostering the creativity…we have enough rules in life to let her slide for a little while longer.

    Been moving cross country, just landed, sorry I’ve been out of touch…

    Lots of love,
    Alex aka Ma What’s For Dinner

  14. So, I’m a new reader, and I just love this post. My sister forwarded it to me because she knew I’d relate. And boy, do I. I think I was a lot like your Hannah. As a kid, I spent 80% of my time in fantasy-land. I had alter-egos. I developed elaborate scenarios. And I was a really happy kid. I had a lot of fun. There were times I think it concerned my parents–like the time I drove my bike into a glass door at McDonalds because I was so immersed in a daydream:) But generally….I grew out of it. My head is still in the clouds a lot, but lying never became an issue…that I know of. As an adult, my imagination gets me in trouble through my anxiety…I develop bizarrely real stories in my head and freak myself out. But when I was a kid? Nothing but fun. I’d say let her roll with it, and be the reality check when it becomes a problem.

  15. Oh my. I feel like I am glimpsing into my future. On the one hand, this is tricky. How do we as parents convey the importance of truth and honesty while encouraging our kids to use their imagination? On the other hand, this is simple. Your girl is young and intelligent and doing just what she should be doing. That doesn’t mean any of this is easy for the parents. As always though, it seems apparent to me that you are thinking critically and asking important questions and that counts for a lot.

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