Wednesday, December 3, 2008

When Your Child Lies and Digs In, Part 2: Why They Do It

So why do kids sometimes lie and then proceed to dig in, even when it seems obvious to everyone else that they lied. Sometimes it is fear of punishment, often they are trying to save face, and occasionally it is because they initially lied for one of those reasons, and once they've repeated it a few times one of a couple things can happen. One is just an extension of saving face. They know that they lied and repeated the lie even when called on it, and if they 'fess up now, they have to admit that they have been lying repeatedly—not a spot any of us likes to find themselves in. Sometimes a child repeats the lie often enough that they genuinely come to believe in their own lie. I've worked with a few kids where I had a hunch this is what happened. It is what makes the suggestions on handling childhood lying to come in future posts so important. This process has a way of snowballing if you don't have experience or some insider tips on handling it.  

When an adult who is good at it wants to avoid lie detection they can do so is by repeating their lie often enough that they become much more comfortable with it. They can literally rehearse their response. If we hooked up wires to measure the skin conductance of one of these adults attempting to deceive, we'd find that when they first lied, they showed more physiological arousal. As they continue to practice their lie, the biological signs of stress begin to decrease. As an aside, adults that are sociopaths, by definition, are able to lie without their conscience getting the best of them, because for all practical purposes they don't have a conscience. 

Parenting is all about keeping, losing and regaining perspective. Here is one tip for gaining the big picture view you need when your child lies. When we catch our children lying it can feel like a punch to the gut. To recover enough to handle this difficult situation, it is helpful helpful to tap into our empathy skills to remember a time during our childhood when we'd cornered ourselves in a lie. Many of us learned not to lie and dig in in one of the central ways that humans often need to learn, by doing it and experiencing the consequences. We had an experience lying to someone we cared about in the moment, and then saw how it hurt our relationship with them when the lie was found out. Often as adults, it is easy to look at our kids through the lens of the wisdom that we've accumulated throughout the years, and forget that we once had to make poor decisions and learn from them before we gained the wisdom we now have. We wish they could learn through our past errors rather than make them on their own, but just as our own parents likely hoped for the same and winced as they watched us make that very mistake they hoped they could get us to avoid. 

In upcoming posts in this series we'll at what happens when in our anger and frustration we use language that labels our child a liar. We'll also take a look at ways that you can avoid this mistake and handle the challenge in a way that will increase the odds that our response will help our children to use the experience to grow an even stronger sense of conscience rather than becoming more hardened to the relationship injuring aspects of lying.