Several studies have argued that children under the ages of nine or ten years rarely comprehend figurative language and therefore interpret it literally. Cacciari & Levorato (1989). showed that when idioms are presented within a rich informational environment, children are able to grasp the figurative sense at the age of seven, and also that children are less able to produce idioms than to comprehend them. In three experiments involving 264 children (whose age ranged from 6;9 to 11;9), we contrasted this global elaboration hypothesis with a partially alternative one, the acquisition via exposure hypothesis, according to which the frequency of exposure of children to idioms is the main factor explaining their acquisition and production. Results showed that familiarity (i.e. frequency of exposure) plays a minor role and only for children who are not yet able to use contextual information. Familiarity per se does not adequately explain how children acquire a figurative competence. A tentative model is proposed in order to account for figurative competence acquisition.