“Did you take the cookie?” – Child shakes his head no, while holding the cookie.
“Did you text that boy from school, that dad and I asked you not to text?” – Teenager’s eyes go wide as she swears on her life she didn’t.
“Did you just hit your brother?” – Child denies the claim even as a red hand-shaped welt forms on his brother’s bare back.
“But, I didn’t get a ‘C’ in math.”
“I’m not drinking out of this cup.” (that I’m holding in my hand.)
“That’s not my book bag. I know it has my name on it, but it’s not mine.”
Humans avoid getting in trouble at all costs. It’s in our nature. When we have a consistent trusting relationship with the adults in our lives, we usually begin to determine which things are worth lying about. I stopped lying about cookies in elementary school but I still fudged the truth as a teenager about where I was going with my friends. I grew out of that and matured into an adult who only occasionally lies to the stranger in the salon who is wondering if her new trendy hair cut looks good. Lying isn’t uncommon but with children from trauma, the lying often makes no sense and trying to have an everyday conversation can be disheartening and infuriating.
To the best of your ability, take away the possibility of a lie. Our post adoption counselor gave us this advice when we were confronted with this issue years ago I didn’t want to heed her advice because I thought that my children should just learn to tell the truth. It turns out that she was right. It is our child’s misplaced fear of survival causing the lying. Once I learned that, I could see the lie differently. I began to change my question to a statement. “You are not in trouble. I’m not mad. I have your grade card in my hand and I see that you got a ‘C’. I already talked to your teacher, and we are going to do some tutoring before school.”
When you phrase the statement in a matter of fact way, the child should realize safety and respond accordingly, right? Sorry, it doesn’t change that fast. It will take time. You may tell your child, you have their grade card in your hand and they may still respond by denying the grade or lying about turning in missing assignments. Here’s where it get’s tricky. Do not go down the winding road of survival brain with your child. Stick to the facts, reassure, and stop the conversation if necessary until they can calmly talk about the facts.
Be consistent in monitoring your child. If you know that they are stealing from other children at school, take away the backpack and sew up pockets. Then check every day to see if they are doing the right thing. Do not ask, “Did you steal?” Tell, “I found this lego person that I know doesn’t belong to you, we will go together tomorrow to return it.”
Be gentle with yourself. Your child’s trauma response isn’t about you. You are a good parent for helping them through it. If you fail at handling the lying properly, admit it and try again tomorrow. Extend yourself the grace that you need to dust off and try again.