As adults, our understanding of the world relies on our ability to differentiate appearances from reality. We know from experience that not everything is what it seems. For young children this is not always as clear, as they sometimes seem to confuse reality with appearances. Can my 3-year-old boy already tell the difference between them? Let’s take a look at what developmental science says about it.

In 2006, psychologist Gedeon Deák from the University of California at San Diego investigated the extent to which preschool children understand the difference between appearances and reality, as well as between reality and fantasy. He discovered that as early as 3 years of age, children are capable of discriminating reality from misleading appearances in multiple tasks. What was interesting was that he observed that preschoolers could easily and accurately describe real and fantastical or fake aspects of an object or situation, but their failing to do so depended not on their cognitive capacities, but on how understandable and clear were the questions about the objects. This led him to suggest that, even if 3 or 4-year-olds can seem challenged to represent reality in their minds, they are, in fact, naturally and flexibly describing appearances and an independent and different reality. Your young child’s mind is already capable of more than what’s easily assessed! Impressive, right?

You want to read more about your preschooler’s capacity for differentiating between reality and fantasy? Here you can read the full article referenced above: