On Lying

by Terri Mauro

Lying is a real line-in-the-sand issue for a lot of parents. It's hard not to react viscerally when a child tells a blatant untruth, and we may feel if we don't crack down, our fibbing kids will become shifty, unreliable adults — or worse, politicians. But while lying is objectively bad, I think the way we deal with it as parents, and particularly as parents of children with special needs, has to be subjective.

My own personal prevaricator has fetal alcohol effects, and this does lead to what some people would call "crazy lying." Most of the time, though, I don't think he's lying with intent to deceive, and so I don't come on strong with punishment. Often, he lies because he doesn't know what the truth is — he's done something impulsively, and he has no idea why he's done it or even that he's done it, and people are demanding an explanation and not taking "I don't know" for an answer, and so he comes up with something. I try in those cases to explain to him why I think he did the thing, and what he could say when asked, and hope that he will eventually develop an emotional vocabulary for dealing with stuff like this.

He has a real fear of strong emotions and anger, and so will sometimes lie to divert those strong emotions away from himself, although in ways that always make it clear he's not telling the truth (as when he blames his invisible dog for whatever's gone wrong); at those times, I deal with the behavior firmly but very gently, and let him know I know he's lying without making a big deal of it. Other times, he just makes stuff up to be part of a conversation; at those times, I'll ask him questions to draw him out and help him develop a story, and that way it becomes a fun interaction between us and not just a pointless fib.

If your child is lying but appears to be without malevolant intent, one thing that may be helpful is to do some behavior analysis and see if there's any pattern as to when or why he lies. If you can find one, it can give you a clue as to how to help him stop. Here's how to start: For two weeks or so, take no action on the lying but just observe. Make a page for each day, with boxes for each hour, and record when he lies, what he lies about, and anything of note that happened during the day. At the end of the two weeks, examine the records you've kept and see if the incidents have anything in common. Does he lie more at any particular time of day? Any particular days of the week? Before or after any particular events of his day? When he's had contact particular children or adults? Does he lie to get out of things? Does he lie in response to impulsive behavior? Do his lies have purpose, or are they flights of fancy? Does he know he's lying? Does he intend to deceive? Is he more likely to lie when he's tired, or when he's wired? Is he more likely to lie when you're tired, or extra-vigilant?

The hardest part of all this may be to turn off your automatic gut reaction of hatred for lying, take a step back, and look at what's really going on. But that may be what your child needs most of all.

copyright (c) 2003 by Terri Mauro

... And More on Lying

by Sharon Bell

Another point to consider in the picture on lying is that in some cases processing difficulties result in honest but inaccurate perceptions, or events get mixed up in the brain in a way that changes meaning. In these cases, the child who is doing his/her best to tell the truth may be accused of lying because of these inaccuracies. Some children with ADD and/or memory problems have to "fill in the blanks" so constantly to make sense out of the world that they don't even realize when they've done it. So they automatically figure out how things "must have" happened, and that's what they remember and tell about. Some children get events out of order -- which matters if you're asking, "Did Bobby hit you before or after you took his toy?"

So when thinking about how and why the lying occurs, consider also: How aware is the child of his own actions? Can she tell a story in order from beginning to end, or does it get mixed up? What are the chances that this child was able to notice and remember the information I am asking for?

[Sharon Bell is the mother of two children with AD/HD and other learning challenges, and veteran of numerous IEP meetings.]

copyright (c) 2003 by Sharon Bell

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