Misidentified Feelings, Inaccurate Words, and The Lies of Toddlers

Nurshable“MOMMY, ISAAC PUSH ME!” she comes to me crying.
Isaac is at school. There is no way that Isaac just pushed her.
Keenie is two and a half.
What she told me is not true.
But is it a lie? Is she lying? Is she manipulating? Is she trying to get her brother in trouble? What is happening here?

“Keenie, when did Isaac push you?” I ask. Is she upset because she is remembering something that happened?
She can’t answer and just repeats herself.
“Keenie, are you sad about Isaac?” I ask.
She is.
She is sad about something. Some memory. She feels the sadness and the hurt inside but she doesn’t know why. But she knows that she felt this way when Isaac pushed her.
She is two and a half, the age where kids believe in monsters and fairies and invisible friends.
Where sequencing is not a very strong skill, but cause and effect is very firmly rooted.
She has a feeling that has just popped up from nowhere. She has a memory. She has an understanding that things happen that cause feelings. And she doesn’t quite grasp the flow of time or days. She has an intense imagination and a desire to explain the world around her.

“Keenie, Isaac is at school.”
“Isaac come home?” she asks.
“Isaac will come home later. After lunch and after snack.” I say.
Her lower lip quivers and she starts to cry.
“Keenie, do you miss Isaac?” I ask.
She nods.
“You are sad because you want Isaac to come home? You miss him?”
She melts into her sadness.
“I MISS ISAAC. COME HOME!” she says.

She was sad because of Isaac being at school. She was not lying to try and get him in trouble. She was not not sure what she felt. She was sad. Isaac. Sad. Isaac. Memory. Push. Push. Sad. Isaac. MOMMY, ISAAC PUSH ME!

Yes, little one. You are feeling something and you have words. So you try and tell me what it is that you are feeling. You need new words. More words. Not for me to get angry at you for “lying”.

If Isaac had been home would I have gotten angry at him?
Would I have confronted him?
Would I have assumed that he was lying if he told me that he had not pushed her?

If the context had been the same, if she had been trying to talk about some sadness that she had that he had not caused, what would have happened to her if I had reacted out of assumption? What would have happend to him, to their relationship?

5 thoughts on “Misidentified Feelings, Inaccurate Words, and The Lies of Toddlers

  1. Oh Sarah, this is so true! I have been experiencing this daily for quite some time and I have been blessed to know somehow that my child is not lying when he says things that do not appear to be true but rather trying to express a feeling or a situation.. I sometimes correct him and explain but mostly I try to understand whats behind the words as he has still so few at his disposal,, so thank you so much for this piece, it made me cry..


  2. Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your skill of being able to write about these situations in such a clear and precise fashion. We, your loyal readers, cannot help but learn from you.

    Your lessons are rock solid and help me so much in my dealings with the Littles for whom I provide care every day.

  3. Great piece to help parents understand the workings of the little mind. Like grown-ups, we come home from a bad day at work and snap at our partner. We’re not angry at our partner, just expressing those feelings from our bad day at the office.

  4. Thank you very much!!! I am a first time mom my son is almost 8 months but this article almost brought tears to my eyes never thought about responding to a child like that….thank you very much!

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