My son has ADHD and would lie about everything. The more I punished him, the worse it got. By understanding our kids’ motivation to lie, and why punishing them isn’t working, the more we understand, and are successful in overcoming this problem.
Use these inclusive tips by Sharon Eshmade, a counsellor, parenting coach, teacher, author, and mum-of-a-teen with behaviour and learning difficulties, to help you confidently navigate this challenging time to move on from the web of lies.
“Fear is what pushes people to lie.” – anonymous
Psychological fear, like tangible danger, make us feel unsafe. In our reactive fight or flight prehistoric brain, we instinctively do anything to save ourselves. Lying can be the quickest way out. Our kids aren’t thinking. They are impulsive and reactive.
What perpetuates the problem
Psychological fears can be extremely subtle, such as the fear of not being good enough. Kids are impulsive too so when they don’t have the resources to cope, don’t want to be a disappointment, and want to avoid getting into trouble or the consequences, lying becomes a habit that is very hard to break.
Children by nature are childish, have poor coping strategies, poor communication skills and aren’t insightful. We must expect this this behaviour so that we can be understanding.
How we make it worse: 1
When they lie, our kids are in self-preservation mode, they are not thinking about us. Lying is an automatic habit, much like biting our nails. Punishing our kids won’t make it go away because it only reinforces their psychological fears, such as not being good enough, and perpetuates the problem.
How we make it worse: 2
Some kids have a will of steel and will continue to lie even if you threaten and take them to the police, show them a jail cell, and explain the long-term consequences of their actions.
Don’t try to catch them in a lie, they will just dig in their heels more. Then, when they are found out, they are humiliated and embarrassed, which makes them feel worse and increasingly they feel that they not good enough. This strategy might help you to feel justified and righteous but it does not work to solve the problem.
Solution 1: remove the urge
Give your child the resources to cope, reassure them that they are valued and loved, demonstrate that they won’t get into trouble if they tell the truth, and remove unnatural consequences.
Lies break trust so we can respond by building trust in the relationship. We are the adults so we must take action and care for them. I know this is the opposite of what you may want to do but it is the way out of this problem.
Solution 2: be reassuring
It’s vital that you appreciate that you have a trust, not a lying, issue. Try saying, “In our family, we trust each other, and we tell the truth.” We can also add, “I’m not upset you lied. I’m upset that you don’t trust me with the truth. How can I help?”
When our kids feel psychologically safe in the relationship, they may explain why they can’t trust us or can’t tell us the truth, we can respond by changing the way we manage the situation.
It’s also important to know that when they are tired, they are more likely to lie to get out of doing an activity or chore. The more understanding and kind we are, the more they can trust us with the truth. Teach your child to ask for help when they need it. When we respond by not being helpful, they know that they can’t rely on us so they lie.
In our home, we have an agreement that if the kids tell the truth, no matter how hard it is for me to hear, there will be only natural consequences, which means I’m not even allowed to talk about the mistake they made.
This step has positively transformed our relationship. It’s like magic! The moment I start to talk about their poor choices, they smile and tell me that I’m not allowed to because they told the truth. When they are empowered by this control in the relationship, the lying stops.
Once you have less lying and more trust, you can address the poor behaviour choices by using agreements. This is not an easy or quick way to manage poor behaviour but it does work extremely well in the long term.
Kindly hold them accountable
The consequences for poor behaviour choices must be as natural as possible, therefore, they must be naturally linked to the targeted behaviour.
An example of a natural consequence might be that if your child reliably shows you the 5 screenshots of their normal blood sugar reading for that day, then they can drive the car. If they can’t be trusted to keep their sugar levels stable, then driving is unsafe.
Other examples might be, that if your child can’t be trusted to brush their teeth, that they must tell you when they go to brush their teeth so that you can monitor them. If they hide their medication, then they can take their pills while you are watching. All of these arrangements can be agreed upon before hand.
Freedom to fail forward
Our kids don’t want to lie because lying makes them feel that they are bad people. When our kids are psychologically safe in making mistakes, they are more honest, and we can teach and guide them on how to cope in the future.
When I began working on increasing the trust in my relationship with my son, he opened up one day and told me that he had lied. He spontaneously said that he was ashamed and felt guilty when he did something bad. My heart broke a little at his vulnerability and everything that I had learned about positive parenting was confirmed.
It was also easier to talk to him when he demonstrated remorse for his poor actions and the swiftness in his shifting perspective was heart-warming. No, I didn’t want him to feel guilt and shame but if he was taking on increased responsibility for his behaviour then we could talk about these feelings moving forward.
We now talk about how mistakes are good in teaching us to be better humans in the future and that I don’t expect them to be robots. Their humanness is what is so special about them and mistakes in life will support their development into being better humans who are kind, caring and compassionate.
Ask for help
Does my son still lie? Occasionally, but with increased trust, the situation has vastly improved. It is so hard to be different in our parenting. Visit me on social media or my website at http://www.crashtestmummy.net or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My role is to be there for you and help your life be better.
For all references to specific points of view and research, please visit my website, download my book, Crash Test Mummy, and refer to the Appendix section.