Preschoolers: small people, tall tales
My daughter's story about her dad wearing a bra is typical of 3- to 5-year-olds' freewheeling relationship with reality. This is the age of invisible friends, horned monsters, and talking rainbows. Though she recently outgrew them, 4-year-old Lucy Sterba of El Cerrito, California, basked last year in the companionship of not one, but eight imaginary sisters, each with a name, birth date, and backstory. "The sisters did things Lucy couldn't do, like wear pink dresses every day," says her dad, Chris.
Preschoolers' tall tales can be pure play, or sometimes wishful thinking (Lucy's pretend sisters never had to eat mushrooms the way Lucy does, her mom notes). And it's not unusual for young kids to insist, as Lucy did, that their fantasy world is real. "It's not really a lie," says Dr. Berger. "What your child indicates when he says 'He's real' is the tremendous colorfulness, prominence, and importance of his imaginary friends."
If a particular tall tale troubles you, it's important to keep things in perspective. "If a child seems happy and has realistic relationships with the important people in his life, I would not be worried about his fantasizing. That's what children did before there was TV," Dr. Berger says. Remember that what seems outlandish to adults may simply be a child's way of processing new ideas. After Lucy learned that her grandfather had died before she was born, several of her "sisters" suddenly died, too. "She would talk about it in a very matter-of-fact way," Sterba says. "Our friends started to joke that there must be an epidemic."