Creatively tackling the issue of THE LIE
Alright, so for years, my friends and colleagues have stated that I have some unconventional parenting techniques. I have been a parent for 26 years and a foster parent for 3.5 years. So today, I want to share a silly little technique I call THE BIGGEST LIE.
First though, we have to discuss why children in foster care may lie. There could be a myriad of reasons. Let’s explore some of them. This is by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive list – it is just a way to hopefully get you to look through a trauma lens when dealing with a potential behavior.
Ideally our childhood is spent learning to trust our environment and the adults in our lives. We trust that they will care for us, love us and make sure we make it to adulthood with some core values and skills to survive being a grownup. Now for our foster kiddos, this essential foundational component of childhood is severely lacking or nonexistent. If you grow up in a chaotic and abusive household, why would you ever trust strangers with your darkest stories, thoughts and scary moments? The previous adults set a precedent that they cannot be trusted, why should these kiddos trust a foster parent, social worker, judge, teacher etc? It can be easy to escape into a made up world because exposing our inner truths makes us vulnerable. Being vulnerable is scary to foster children. Telling THE LIE might be easier than exposing their vulnerability.
Imagine you are a five year old and your dad is a heavy drinker. The slightest thing can set him off. Say you didn’t clean your room. Dad comes home, drunk as a skunk. Looks at you – asks if your room is clean and your gut reaction, to avoid being physically or emotionally hurt, is to say “yup”. Now imagine if you had to lie to make it through the day to survive. There hasn’t been food in the house for days. One day there is a cupcake just hanging out on the counter. You know you will be beaten if you eat it. But you are starving. So your childhood brain weighs the options of not starving or getting beat. Tough decision for a kiddo. The path of survival is marked with scary things when you are in a bad environment. You give in. Eat the cupcake. When asked, to save your skin, you lie and say you don’t know what happened to it. And the cycle grows and continues. It becomes second nature. The trouble you could face is way worse than the risk of getting caught in THE LIE.
Emotional Warfare and Secrets
Kids who have been abused, especially those who have been sexually abused, are often groomed to keep secrets. They are often threatened with extreme violence or even death if they tell anyone what is happening to them. Oftentimes if they do tell someone, they are not believed. The path of survival for these kiddos is keeping the secret and telling a lie to everyone around them about how they might have received an injury. Again THE LIE becomes a means to an end to survive. This is why we preach to never allow secrets and to always believe victims.
So with the above reasons and the potential for a 100 more, how can we combat THE LIE which has become an ingrained behavioral pattern for our kiddos?
Well one day, probably in a moment of frustration and potentially genius creativity, I came up with the idea of encouraging my children to lie. WHAT?!?!? DOESN’T THAT DEFEAT THE PURPOSE OF STOPPING OR CURBING THE BEHAVIOR?
Well you wouldn’t be wrong if this was your reaction. However, I recognized that my kids didn’t even notice that they were telling a lie. It was part of their makeup from their childhoods of trauma and had become a defense mechanism. I mean they would lie about EVERYTHING! Is your name “——“? Child: “nope” – (insert eye rolling for dramatic effect.)
So my thought was to make them realize it. I had to have this realization before I could tackle to morality of the issue at hand. How did I do that? I set up a rule about telling THE LIE.
If you were going to lie, you had to make it the most outrageous and creative lie on the planet. So if you didn’t do your homework – the story shouldn’t just be “I did it” – or you will get in trouble.
The story had to be amazing and I had to believe it. “I was walking home from school and suddenly, Abraham Lincoln appeared from a portal and asked me to go on adventure to help him with some issues he was having with redecorating his suite in the white house so in traveling with him, I lost the homework that I already did”
Now the consequences for telling a lie that wasn’t creative were age based. Those are a whole different blog as I am equally as creative and educational in my consequences.
So once I instituted this new rule, it was like an avalanche of fictional storytelling. In essence this encouraged creativity, helped develop a sense of humor and INTERRUPTED the second nature behavior. They had to think about it. They had to stop, evaluate if the lie was worth the effort of creating a story I hadn’t heard and then proceed. It also allowed them to trust me. They learned that I was going to be a safe harbor in their stormy life. Once we tackled the defense mechanism, we were able to focus on the values of trust and telling the truth. I don’t know if this is best technique or one that is even a good one, but I can tell you that the telling of lies in my home greatly diminished and the creativity was nurtured to the point that is blossomed and became something beautiful.
Director of Development and Recruitment – New Beginnings Family Services