One of the most common points of frustration for parents of kids who have attachment issues is what to do about lying. All children – in fact, all of us – lie sometimes. But for kids with attachment issues, developmental trauma, and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), lying is often part of their regular patterns of behavior. Read on for help for parenting kids who lie.
Lying, lying, lying.
In an earlier post I wrote about What to Do When Your Kids Lie to You. In that post I wrote about how fear is often the internal reason why kids lie, and I shared a sample conversation for how to open insights into this fear.
Today I’m sharing more helpful information about lying from Angie Hurley, adoptive parent. She wrote this on a foster parent site and gave me permission to share it here with you as well.
How Can I Stop My Child From Lying?
by Angie Hurley, adoptive mom
The most common question parents have are around lying are:
- How do I make the lying stop?
- How can I make a child understand that it’s “wrong” or “bad”?
I want to take you back to your foster parenting training (if you had an effective one) and the conversation about trauma (which was probably far too short). Remember that trauma causes actual, real, physiological changes to happen in the brain. Trauma impacts the limbic system where emotion, behavior, and long-term memory live.
Trauma impacts the feeling brain and the ability to communicate with the thinking brain. Remember this scientific truth in Every. Single. Interaction.
That impact is not fixed with hugs, love, and stability over a short period of time. In some cases it may never repair, and in others a child may need to learn to use the skills for regulation in a different way than they might have before the primary, and subsequent, traumas.
A child whose brain has learned to live in fight-or-flight may never get out of the full response, but might be able to learn to control that initial response.
Lying serves many purposes:
- Lying is protective. “If I admit the truth, I might get in trouble and trouble can hurt both physically and emotionally.”
- Lying might be based in fear. “If I am not good all the time, they won’t want me.”
- Lying may be a means to control. “I have no control over anything in my life – where I live, when I see my siblings, going to therapy, what school I attend, if my parents will be successful, if my foster parents will want to keep me if I can’t go home, how people view me in society because I’m in foster care – but there are a few things I can control. I can control what they know or don’t know about my feelings and my actions.”
- Lying might be impulsive. “I saw it, I wanted it, I don’t have the skills that allow me to prevent myself from taking it. Now I’ve done it and I can’t admit it because it’s embarrassing.”
We teach children who have neurotypical brain chemistry not to lie using positive modeling over time and our relationship; their trust in us and their desire to engage in a cooperative relationship, avoid conflict, and to emulate the adults they trust encourages truth-telling.
We cannot use the same tools for a child with whom we may not have that relationship until we build that trust.
We have to address the underlying cause of the behavior before we can address the behavior.
Here’s the biggest thing. THIS MAY TAKE YEARS.
My son entered our home at 14 years old and is now 20 years old. He trusts me as much as he will ever trust anyone, and he STILL doesn’t trust that I will meet his needs until he sees me in action, despite having met his needs consistently and lovingly for six years.
This isn’t personal. My son calls me when he is angry, sad, lonely, fearful, happy, has a song to share, wants family dinner, or just wants to tell me something cool. He wants to trust me, and when calm and regulated, will tell you he trusts me completely.
But as soon as even the tiniest drop of cortisol (the hormone the body produces in response to stress) hits his body, his hyper-vigilant brain kicks in and tells him that no one will meet his needs unless he screams, lies, cries, or tricks them into it.
The best thing I can do is to remain calm and not defend myself because this isn’t actually about me.
I acknowledge his fear, remind him I’m here, and prepare to help him regulate when he is able.
If I then confront him with his “bad” behavior, the unfairness of him lying (or yelling or name calling) to me and his lack of logic, then I am simply introducing the stress hormone back before we’ve even recovered.
Instead I focus on the relationship. I say something like, “I’m sorry if telling me the truth doesn’t feel safe, because I want to be that person for you. I hope you can trust me with all your truths and until you can, we will just keep working together to build that trust.”
Here’s the final thing. Often we talk about teaching the child that if they lie, we can’t trust them. But in truth, the situation is happening because they can’t trust you.
Not that your child doesn’t want to trust you, but cannot. When all those little neurons settle down, then your child will feel stable, secure, and have age-appropriate control of their lives again.
Have you parented a child with attachment issues who struggles to tell the truth?
More Posts You Will Love
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): What is RAD and Why Should You Care?
Attachment Issues: When Family Life is Not Working
4 Categories of Attachment Disorder
thank you for the articles. we are parenting kids from hard places (a sibling group of 4 through foster care we adopted) and the lying is exhausting. I love the wording you used -“I’m sorry if telling me the truth doesn’t feel safe” We are 7.5 years in and the progress is slow and I keep reading articles, attending classes and praying- alot!
Thanks for your encouragement!
Thanks for your comment, Jill. I know it gets so tiring. God bless you for the work you are doing with these kids!