How to Differentiate Lies from Fantasy in Children

To differentiate lies from fantasy in children, it's important to elucidate whether they intend to deceive or if it's just their imagination.
How to Differentiate Lies from Fantasy in Children
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 02 April, 2023

Young children have a great imagination and, for this reason, it’s difficult for us to differentiate lies from fantasy. Between the ages of 3 and 5, children have magical thinking, in which they believe in fantastic beings, fairies, elves, the tooth fairy, and any other imaginary being. For them, any of these can come to life and even talk.

That’s why, when we talk to our little ones, we have to know how to differentiate between their fantasies and lies. So, before thinking that your child is lying to you, you must take into account certain aspects, such as their age, their personality, their maturity, and the intention behind what they tell you. In this article, we’ll look at how you can differentiate lies from fantasy.

How to differentiate lies from fantasy according to a child’s age

It’s very important that we take into account the age of children when interpreting if there’s a desire to deceive or if it’s simply due to their excessive imagination. Below, we’ll discuss the issue by age.

Up to four years old

These little ones are in the age of magical thinking. Their fantasy is in full swing and they may surprise us by telling us that they’ve seen a fairy in their room. Telling them at this point that this isn’t possible isn’t helpful or necessary, as they don’t yet understand the rules of truth.

Four to seven years old

At this age, they’re in between reality and fantasy. They’re somewhat more aware of their lies and, when they use them, they do it to please their parents or to hide some fault. At this stage, they also use their fantasy to protect themselves from emotions or situations they don’t know how to deal with.

Parents confronting their child about a lie.
From the age of 7, children are more aware of lies and their consequences. Many times, they use them to get something or to please other people.

From 8 to 12 years old

At this age, they’ve already learned to distinguish white lies and the repercussions they can have on other people. Dishonesty is already used with the intention of getting something, being funny, or getting out of situations that compromise them. Therefore, they avoid any responsibility they don’t feel like assuming or getting in trouble.

Key aspects to differentiate lies from fantasy in children

In order to distinguish between fantasy and lies in children, we must take into account and analyze the aspects that we’re going to mention below:


The child’s personality is also an aspect to take into account to find out if what they’re saying is a lie or a product of their imagination. There are children who are very imaginative and can even fantasize beyond the age of 6 or 7.


Each child is different and has a different level of maturity due to certain factors, such as genetic, cultural, family, or social factors. However, age is key to distinguishing lies from fantasy, although sometimes chronological age doesn’t correspond to the child’s mental age.


When children lie, they falsify something that has actually happened by confirming or denying it with the intention to deceive. They do this to avoid negative consequences for having performed that action or to seek approval from others. When they’re young, the intention is simply to explore, experiment, and have fun.

A little girl crossing her arms and turning her back to her mother, who is scolding her.
Early lies are part of a game in which children seek to observe how adults react. When they’re older, they may lie to get out of a scolding.

How should we act?

Believe it or not, lies are also an opportunity to educate our children. For example, we can take advantage of these situations to build trust, encourage sincerity, and teach them to differentiate lies from fantasy. They can even be used to instill values and to make them take responsibility. So, what can we do about them?

  • Up to the age of 4: Allow them to express their experiences in drawings or by telling their stories, no matter how fanciful they may seem.
  • From 4 to 7 years old: If we want our children to value honesty and sincerity, it’s important to always tell them the truth and use language they can understand. Our goal is to help them express what’s happening to them and build confidence so that they can always say what they think.
  • From 8 to 12 years old: We can use movies to analyze the characters that use deceit and lies to get what they want. This way, we can make them see that this isn’t the right thing to do. Our aim is that in our family, there’s enough trust so that we all tell the truth.
  • Don’t lie to children: Many times, we lie with the intention of protecting our children. However, this doesn’t help them develop their sincerity and honesty. In addition, it breaks their trust in adults.

About how to differentiate lies from fantasy in children

As you’ve seen, differentiating lies from fantasy in children isn’t always simple. Therefore, we must take into account the aspects we’ve seen in this article. We can’t interpret that a 4-year-old child is lying to us when they tell us something about an imaginary being because they don’t yet have the intentionality to lie to adults with a purpose.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Sotillo, M., & Rivière, Á. (2001). Cuando los niños usan las palabras para engañar: la mentira como instrumento al servicio del desarrollo de las habilidades de inferencia mentalista. Infancia y aprendizaje, 24(3), 291-305.
  • Llosa, M. V. (2016). La verdad de las mentiras. Alfaguara.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.