- Autumn Quiles, LCSW
Human beings lie, all of us. Some people justify a lie based on the severity... as in, it's okay to lie to an officer about how fast you were driving, but it is not okay to lie to a spouse about an affair. Some people feel that lying is a personal affront: as if the person who is lying believes they can dupe the "gullible" person listening to the lie.
Parents get especially concerned when their kids lie. And, this week, I have come across a lot of lying kids. I keep getting the questions: Is she lying? Or is this the truth? What should I believe? How concerned should I be?
Lying is not only normal, it is developmentally appropriate. And, it happens most with our smartest kids, who are pushing into their own independence. Teenagers are super-huge liars. Lying is the way that we get what we want, if honesty won't work.
Researchers have extensively explored the subject of lying, or deception. They have worked hard to define why people lie. There was a fantastic National Geographic article in 2017 about the science behind lying. There is also a researcher, Tim Levine, who has done a lot of work to understand deception.
The question becomes: how do we, as parents, respond to lies?
There is no need to "bust" your kid for lying. You know he is lying. He knows he is lying. Having him "own" the lie is less important than understanding why he told the lie.
Try to understand what need your child is trying to have met, by telling the lie. Is he lying to avoid embarassment? Is he lying to make you understand how serious and issue is? Is he lying to get something he really wants, or feels he needs?
See if there is a way to help your child get what she wants. If she is feeling embarrassed, honor that and help her make a choice that would be less embarrassing. If she is trying to convey how serious an issue is, express your genuine and heartfelt understanding of her problem. If she feels she really needs something, help her find an "honest way" to get what she needs.
As a therapist, I don't "bust" any kid for being dishonest. Rather, I flow with the tide of dishonesty, to better understand a child's perspective and gain a greater understanding of what they want, that they feel they are not getting. Then, I work with parents/caregivers to find a way to get the kid what she wants, so she can have a more honest and genuine relationship with her loved ones. I find that, most often, what the kid truly wants is acceptance, understanding and a more confident sense of self. These things are easy for a parent to give their child. Before long, we have a child who moves from lying to her caregivers, to a child who has an honest relationship with loved ones. Then, we are truly on a fast-track to healing.
If you are frustrated with your child's dishonesty and you can't seem to get through all of the lies, please call me. I can help steer you back into the honest relationship you need to have a happy family.