“Caitlyn did it, not me.” “This kid ran past me, grabbed my backpack and…” “The car in front of me slammed on their brakes…” “The teacher never told me the assignment was due.”
It seems like every adoptive, foster, and even biological family deals with lying. In fact,
lying is the biggest struggle for many parents.
I think the reason many moms and dads are so disgusted by lying is because of their past experiences with lying. Whether it be their parents came down hard on them if they lied, or they were constantly accused of lying when they weren’t, or they’ve faced lying boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses. It can put a harsh taste in someone’s mouth when so much shame, guilt, and negativity surround an issue, in this case it’s lying.
Janna’s* previous dealings with lying were mostly in her home growing up. Her mother despised lying and made Janna feel so humiliated when she said something misleading. Yet, if Janna had told the truth in the few instances she was caught telling falsehoods, she would have been in trouble anyway. There wasn’t much leniency for bad behavior in her home growing up, but with lying the big hammer came crashing down. Her parents made her feel despicable if she did lie, and even when she told the truth, they often didn’t believe her. Now Janna’s a foster mom, and
she sees herself reacting in the same manner her parents did.
What’s a person to do? They can deal with it, both the feeling they have toward their parents and those they feel about themselves. But, most of the time it’s passed on and they do the same with their children if they aren’t particularly careful to avoid those emotions of shame, guilt, and being unworthy.
Once we acknowledge that we may have issues with lying that are being transferred to our children, or simply making the issues bigger than they are, we can move forward to understand and help our kids.
I first heard this concept from Bryan Post, and that is, there are two basic human feelings, love and fear. Lying doesn’t come from a place of love, so it stems from fear. Bryan Post says, “…there is the fear of rejection, they fear of being caught, the fear of abandonment, the fear of abuse, etc…The sooner you can grasp this concept, the quicker you will see your child’s behaviors begin to transform.” Post also says, “In fact, brain researcher, Joseph LeDoux, tells us that in times of stress, our thinking becomes confused and distracted and our short-term memory does not work effectively.” (OH, that’s my problem!)
- Think through the situations when your child has lied. Can you connect it in any way to fear? Remembering what Post said about fear of rejection, fear of being caught, fear of abandonment, the fear of abuse.
Remember too, our children had another life before they came to us. We don’t know how honesty was treated in their previous home or how lying was dealt with.
Pam Parish touches on this in her soon to be released book, Ready or Not**, a book for prospective and current adoptive and foster families. I am privileged to have received an early release copy and I can tell you, you’ve got to get one! In Ready or Not, Pam says,
“At it’s core lying is a survival tactic…The risk a child who has been abused and abandoned takes when telling the truth and admitting that they’ve done something wrong is that they will be abused, abandoned, shamed, or rejected.”
You may not have a story similar to Janna’s, but you probably feel frustrations rise when your child repeatedly lies. Bryan Post says, “Just as your child’s lying is driven by his stress and fear, the actual lie itself triggers stress and fear within you, thus driving your own negative behavior.”
It can be tempting to come down harder on a child who won’t fall in line, which in turn makes the lying worse.
If there are issues with lying, it can be helpful to focus on less consequences (or none) when your child tells the TRUTH.
I encourage parent to tell their child, “If you tell me the truth, you won’t get in trouble,” if it’s a minor infraction (e.g. lost homework, a broken toy, a missing book). Or, if it’s a lie on a larger scale (e.g. something happened to the car, they’re in trouble with the law, they didn’t come home until 2am), I suggest saying, “You won’t be in nearly as much trouble if you tell me the truth.”
Younger children may not always have a fear base for telling a lie, they’re simply testing boundaries and rules. They’ve discovered this idea of trying to fool the adults and they’ll test it to see if it works.
I hope you can see how your child doesn’t lie because they don’t like you or they’re a horrible kid. Your child lies because of fear, and young kids sometimes do because they’re testing life. No fun, but it makes it much easier to deal with.
If you can stay calm and without much reaction to the lie, they can learn to trust you.
What do you think about the relation between lying and fear? Have you dealt with lying in an unconventional way? What did you do and how did it work?
*Names changed to protect privacy
**Pam Parish’s book, Ready or Not, is out and available. It’s a pivotal book that I highly recommend foster and adoptive parents read.
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