2 Completely LEGIT Reasons Your Kids Lie Right To Your Face

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why kids lie

This has to be bad, right?

You walk into the kitchen and see your kid playing video games on her tablet. "Did you feed the dog?" you ask.

"Yup," she says, never breaking her concentration on the game.

You walk over to the dog bowl and see that it’s empty, and so is the water bowl. The dog is whining in hunger. "You didn’t feed the dog, did you?" you ask.

You’re angry now. Not only because the dog is hungry — but because your child lied to you. You want to yank that game right out of her hands and not give it back until she has finished all her chores. 

Scenes like this play out in our homes every day, and a parent’s tendency is to react strongly.

Before jumping to conclusions, however, you have to remember that your child's mind works differently than yours.

Here are 2 possible reasons why your kids always "lie" to you:

1. Your child remembers doing the task, just not when

This is especially true for kids with ADD, anxiety, or other challenges. They face working memory deficits, making it difficult to recall repetitive tasks.

Often, a child remembers feeding the dog, but can't recall whether it happened today or in the recent past. Feeding the dog today is exactly like feeding the dog yesterday, and feeding the dog last week. It’s hard for a child to "remember" which day is which and the result looks a lot like "lying."

Yes, she turned in her homework. Yes, she put her soccer cleats in the closet. Yes, she ate her protein snack. She remembers feeding the dog, but she doesn't recall if it happened today or the day before.

2. Lying is a defense mechanism against stress.

Think about times when you’ve felt stressed or threatened. You get a knot in your throat, the hair on the back of your neck stands up, and your breaths become shallow and rapid. In these situations, your brain shuts down, sends all the blood to your feet, and shoots cortisol into your body — a "fight or flight" response.

When you ask your child why he didn’t do his homework, or fed the dog, or clean his room, it produces this same stress reaction. Now, all he wants is to feel safe again. In the immediate moment, lying is a pretty darn effective way to do that.

Dr. Jerome Schultz calls this type of behavior "Saving F.A.S.E." Kids engage in behaviors, including lying, because of Fear, Avoidance, Stress, and Escape. Dr. Shultz explains that "many of the behaviors that seem negative or bad are actually self-protective strategies children employ, either consciously or unconsciously, to hide their incompetence." The "incompetence" could be deficits in working memory, the inability to focus or break focus, or other challenges with executive function.

But, whether your child’s lies are intentional or not, you can still keep their Pinnocchio behavior in check:

  • Consistently use daily structure to help address working memory problems: One of the best ways is to give kids a checklist. When your child turns in her homework or feeds the dog, for example, she puts a check mark on the list. That way she can visually see what tasks she has done for the day. 
  • Recognize when your kids feels threatened: Instead of accusing, calmly say, "You’re not in trouble, so tell me what happened." Then, work on getting out of the threat cycle: Taking deep breaths, having a sip of water, doing a few jumping jacks or running in place to shift the energy back. Talk about what really happened, but only after the child has calmed down and feels safe.
  • Get curious and show compassion: It’s OK to feel stressed or threatened when your child lies to you. But instead of, "My kid didn’t turn in his homework again. He told me he did, he lied to me!!" try, "I’ve got a good kid who is having a hard time. I wonder what is going on and how I can help him?" It’s a simple switch, but it can make a powerful difference for both of you.

When you know your child feels stressed, threatened, or just can't recall correctly, be willing to let the lie go.

Taking a 'coach-approach' and implementing systems and structures that will help her remember or feel safe reduces her stress ... and yours, too. The truth is — kids want to be good — and you have the power to help your child succeed.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus and Diane Dempster, founders of ImpactADHD.com, teach/write about practical strategies to parents of “complex” kids with ADHD and related challenges. To help your kids find the motivation to get anything done, download their free parent’s guide, The Parent’s Guide to Motivating Your Complex Child.

This article was originally published at ImpactADHD. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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