In my previous blog, I shared with you the heartbreaking day Husband realized the “abnormality” of Middle’s lying behavior and how we responded in one of the worst possible ways. Today, I’m going to share even more moments in our household where we failed to utilize therapeutic strategies when faced with a lying-liar-who-lies child.
But before I get into that, watch this video from Christine Moers to see what I’ve found to be the best method when dealing with “crazy lying”:
I love how she emphasizes the fact that you shouldn’t ask them whether or not they did something because it’s pointless. Nor should you ask them to admit their lie… It’s pointless! Seriously. A child with RAD may believe his or her life depends on concealing the truth… Asking them about the lie or demanding accountability almost guarantees a meltdown. And do you really want to provoke the eighth meltdown of the day?
Middle recently gouged markings on my desk and I knew she had done it. There was no question. Just like when she wrote on the wall, I had all the evidence I needed to accuse her of gouging the desk without worry that maybe it was another kiddo.
I decided to confront Middle with the evidence and demand the truth (like I’ve said many times… I am good at writing about therapeutic parenting, but I’m not always so great at implementing the most helpful strategies when faced with RAD behavior!).
Of course she refused to admit any wrongdoing, no matter how many times we told her she wouldn’t be in trouble if she just told us what happened, that we didn’t care at all about the desk but only that she trust us enough to tell us what happened. We left out the fact that we needed to know where she found something sharp enough to gouge the desk, but that was a high priority for us since she occasionally engages in self-harm and antagonizes the cat from time to time.
It took her four hours to buckle under our intense interrogation, and by that time we were so angry that her eventual admission of guilt did nothing to mitigate our anger. She received punitive consequences for lying to us and disrupting Pizza Movie Night (our weekly attempt at family fun).
A few days after the desk incident, Middle lied to me about a marker she’d hidden in her room (she is not allowed markers in her room because she marks up her walls and clothing. We rent an apartment that for some stupid reason used matte-finish paint on the walls… so removing the marker results in the paint coming off which means we have to pay to repaint the room when we move!). When I asked her about the marker, she said she didn’t know where it was and insisted she didn’t hide it.
“If I find it hidden in your room,” I said, “I will know that you are lying Are you sure you don’t want to tell me now? You won’t get in trouble if you tell me the truth right now.
“I didn’t hide it. It’s just gone.”
Of course I found the marker, hidden carefully and strategically underneath her clothes. I didn’t move the marker, and went back to ask, “Are you sure you didn’t hide it?”
“I didn’t do it!” she yelled. She started crying so loudly we could hear her from outside our apartment. Tears rolled down her cheeks in cascades.
There was a time when these emotional appeals worked on me, but now that I know they don’t go as deep as they appear to go, they only serve to exasperate me. “Middle.” She suddenly stopped her dramatic breakdown. “Middle, I already found it and I know you hid it. Won’t you tell me the truth, please?”
“Aaaaaaaaahhhh-ahhhh-ahhhhhhhhh!” she wailed. “You don’t believe me!”
“I want you to find the marker and then we will talk,” I said. I was starting to doubt that she’d hidden it. Middle is very convincing.
But when she came in, she went right to the clothes and pulled it out. And I saw RED. I lost it. I wanted to punish her. I started yelling. “Why didn’t you just TELL me when I asked you the first hundred times that you hid the marker?! NOW YOU ARE IN TROUBLE!”
“But I didn’t hide the marker!” she yelled back, and started sobbing again. “No one believes me!”
Seething, I left the house. I went to the grocery store for some things we needed for dinner, and I bought some ice cream sandwiches, too, because I wanted some comfort food. When I came home and saw the kids, I decided I would share my bounty of deliciousness with them. I and gave one to Little and one to Oldest. Middle reached her hand out to receive this unexpected treat. Ice cream sandwich in hand, I stood in front of her and asked her once again if she’d hidden the marker. “No,” she said.
So I put her ice cream sandwich back in the freezer. “You can have this when you decide to tell me the truth!”
The next night after dinner, I doled out ice cream sandwiches again and withheld Middle’s. “Are you ready to talk about the marker?”
“Okay. No ice cream sandwich for you.”
Later that night, guilt settled and roosted in my psyche. I knew that trying to force an explanation from her by withholding food (never nutritious food, of course, but ice cream still qualifies as food!) completely disregarded the SPACE model for therapeutic parenting, but it took me two days of dealing with a very unhappy Middle to get past my own frustration and look at the situation through more empathetic lenses. Once I got to a better place mentally, I recognized her need to lie because she absolutely does not believe us when we tell her she can avoid punishment by telling the truth when asked. I reflected on her past and thought about the severe consequences she faced when she admitted to lying, consequences that were the exact same had she kept on fibbing. Middle fears telling the truth after she’s done something wrong because she fears the repercussions of bad behavior… In her mind, lying offers her at least a small chance of avoiding punishment.
I decided that since I already knew the truth about the marker that it didn’t really matter… the real issue at hand was her lack of trust in me enough to keep my composure when confronted with her misdeeds.
So, once I got past my anger and forced myself to empathize with her in order to understand her behavior, we practiced admitting “bad” behavior and telling me the truth when asked about said bad behavior. I made her feel as safe as possible, and asked her to say, “I hid the marker because I wanted to keep it in my room.” It took a while before she would even utter the sentence aloud, but when she did, I gave her half an ice cream sandwich and promised a whole treat after dinner.
Now, this tactic hasn’t stopped the lying and I often forget to utilize it. But instead of responding with anger and punishment, I’ve been trying to get her to practice telling us the truth. The last lie she told regarded the shower nozzle which she accidentally broke (or maybe she broke it on purpose, but that doesn’t really matter, does it?). She freaked out when I asked her about it and started in on the lying and crying, but I reassured her and told her it was safe to tell me the truth. I asked her what she thought would happen if she admitted to breaking it. “Never let me take a shower again and give me a swat.” I reassured her that those things weren’t going to happen, and then we practiced telling the truth. “I accidentally broke the shower nozzle,” she said quietly.
“That’s okay!” I said. “Thank you for telling me what happened, because now I know how to fix it! Thank you for being so brave!”
I’m not sure how this will work out in the end, of course, but I’m feeling pretty good about this method I’m trying out. I certainly enjoy working with her like this instead of punishing her or getting so angry… because when I get angry it just scares her more and makes her clamp onto that lie for dear life. When I do things that scare her, I trigger her and disrupt our already fragile bond and deplete her trust in me. How can I expect her to tell me the truth if she doesn’t trust me?
Other Resources on “Crazy Lying”
A blog on how one mom reacts to crazy lying
A blog that looks at lying in a different way
A blog reminding us of the motivation for crazy lying
Ask a question that gives them a choice
This blog illustrates some therapeutic conversations about lying