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Thank you for the continued work you are doing. If you are looking for VLOG topics, I’ve got one for you! My only request would be that you start off with your guitar and a little diddy. I am noticing a pattern of lying in students I work with (and other colleagues are experiencing this as well), and even with my step-son (that’s even a more challenging scenario!!). Lying to me says there is a lack of skills somewhere to truly address what is going on. Or perhaps it is lack of self-awareness, fear of a teacher/parent response (anger), or the always lurking RESISTANCE (I have your show notes from that podcast, and refer to them often). I would love to hear your thoughts on how to approach this, and how to identify the skill set that actually needs to be built up. How can we as educators, parents, caregivers hold space for the learning process and change of beliefs in students that needs to take place, while working through our own disappointment at repeated dishonesty?
Thank you! — Holly
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If your child tends to lie a lot, I don’t care if they’re in elementary, middle school, high school, college. If they tend to lie a lot right to your face and your teacher or parent and you’re concerned about this and you want to understand some real solutions for this, I got 10 insights about why kids lie, and I got eight ideas about solutions for this.
By the way, what’s up, my name is Seth with SethPerler.com. I’m an executive function coach based out of Boulder, Colorado. I help struggling students navigate this thing called education and I received an email that goes like this: “Hey Seth, thank you for your continued work you’re doing. If you’re looking for vlog topics I’ve got one for you. My only request will be that you start with a guitar diddy.” Oh I forgot that, yes, that’s right, a little guitar diddy. All right. That’s all you get today. “Okay, I’m noticing a pattern of a lying in the students I work with and other colleagues are experiencing this as well, and even with my stepson, and that’s an even more challenging scenario. Lying to me says that there is a lack of skill somewhere to truly address what is going on or perhaps it’s the lack of self-awareness, fear of a teacher/parent response, fear of their anger, or they always lurking resistance. I have your show notes from that podcast, I refer to them often.” and I did a podcast with someone about resistance lot. “I love to hear your thoughts on how to approach this and how to identify the skill set that actually needs to be built up. How can we as educators, parents, caregivers, hold space,” I love that you use the term hold space. It’s such an important term in this discussion. Just knowing that concept is going to help you help the kids who are struggling with this, “How can we as educators, parents, caregivers hold space for the learning process and change of beliefs in students that needs to take place while working for our own disappointment at repeated dishonesty. Thank you, from Holly.“
All right. So awesome, awesome question. So you mention that maybe lying is a lack of skills to navigate. I think that is partially true, but I think that lying has a lot to do with a lack of ability for students to do or children, in general, to do what we are asking them to do. We are asking the right papers, organize homework, organize backpacks, to do their responsibilities or their chores, we’re asking them to do all these things. What’s happened over the years, over the decades, is that we have piled more more more more on these kids plates. Our measures of what successes are is often based on productivity are definitely at a loss in this culture to appear successful. We pile so much, I think that a lot of the lying comes from a lack of the ability to do what we’re asking them to do that’s very stressful. Kids want to do well, they try and a lot of these kids are trying so hard and a lot of it’s not noticed. They feel like nobody sees me. Nobody understands how hard I’m trying and there are other things that are going on with your mention in a minute. So I’ll mention it right now actually, so I talk about Iceberg Theory a lot, and one thing with Iceberg Theory I want to mention with trying is that let’s say with Iceberg Theory, we see the tip of the iceberg. We see the line we see the D’s and F’s, the zeros, the missings, the incomplete, and then not following through. We see these things, you know, and we see what’s on the tip of the iceberg. But what is the cause, what’s underneath the iceberg? What do we need to know to really help this human being? One thing, in terms of effort, that we often don’t see is kids, for example, who struggle with sensory issues, so their senses are heightened, their hearing, everything, it’s very distracting to them. They’re seeing everything, they have sensory processing issues. It’s really hard for them to process everything, filter it properly, so their brain is working differently than other people’s brains. Kids who struggle with sensory things using as an example right now. And you can’t see that visibly, it’s underneath the tip of the iceberg yet, we are expecting the same thing of these kids as all other kids and something we don’t even see but is really impacting their ability to focus, to concentrate, to execute, to do the things that we are asking them to do so they are trying harder than everybody and they’re getting beat down.
Before I get into the 10 insights of why these kids lie, I want to talk about this. I used to lie all the time. So I remember when I was in kindergarten the first time that I got caught in a big lie And what happened was, I don’t know why I did this, I think I was looking for a reaction. But I just sharpen my pencil and this kid named Joel was coming to sit down next to me. I remember this like it was yesterday. I take the pencil as you sitting down on the chair. I put it under him, the kid sits on the on the pencil, it pokes him in the butt and he starts crying. I think for me, I think I was looking for reactions. I don’t know what was going through my head, to be honest, but I got sent to the principal’s office. I’m sitting there, Joel’s sitting there, the principal and sitting there, and he goes, “I want you to look me in the white of my eyes.” He says, “Why did you do that?” And I remember sitting there and I’m looking at him dead in the eye and I said, “Well he,” pointing to the kid, “put a thumbtack on my chair,” and the kid is crying, and he says, “I did not!!” That was a bald-faced lie on my end. I look the guy straight in the eye and I said, “Well somebody did,” and I got away with that lie. That was a very powerful experience for me as a kid because what I learned was that I can lie and get away with it. I proceeded to lie anytime I quote, needed to, or thought that I needed to until I was about 20 or 21 years old. And what had happened to me, and I’m being very honest and vulnerable with you, the audience there. But what had happened to me is that I got in trouble a lot and I did stupid things, and I didn’t say I didn’t have anything and I didn’t have good executive function, I didn’t like getting in trouble and this was a way out. This was the solution for me. And what had happened to me is that I lied so much that once I stop lying, I would notice my impulse to lie, even when I didn’t mean to lie, because when I was lying, it had become a habit where I was lying when I didn’t even need to really to. It really became a habit, so I’m going to give you 10 insights on why I think some students might lie.
Number 1: The first and most important thing is that lying for most of these kids, most of the time it’s not a moral issue. I want you to think of it this way. Most of the time when a kid lies it is because their nervous system is having a response to what feels threatening. So, you, the adult say something to the child or the student, and they feel threatened by that, so it filters through the story in their mind. So the story is “Oh no, I’m not doing with this adult wants me to do or I didn’t do it right or I made a mistake, or I forgot something or I didn’t do my homework,” or whatever the story is. But in their story, it feels threatening. Now, adults, you have got to understand what I’m talking about as deeply as possible. If you haven’t learned about somatic experiencing, EMDR, brain spotting somatic approaches to therapy. Our body is having the entire experience in our culture. Listen, very carefully parents, in our culture, we are told and taught not to feel our feelings in so many ways. So anyhow, the reason I’m telling you that because you have know that’s what’s going on and what’s a part of what’s triggering the lying is that there is a physical physiological response to feeling threatened. You can say, “hey did you do your chores?” and they’re like, “oh no I didn’t I’m going to get in trouble,” this is a physiological response, there comes lying. Now I’m not saying that that justifies lying, but I’m telling you what some of what’s going on. When we lie, there is something going on where we feel threatened. It’s the nervous system having a response with what is perceived as a threat.
Number 2: Resistance. This is classic resistance. Lying is just part of the resistance game. The number one thing students who struggle with executive function struggle with is resistance. Any program that tries to help a child with executive function that does not address resistance is missing the boat, and it will not be effective or it will be minimally effective. It probably will not move the needle, truly. So resistance is number 2.
Number 3: Often the lying is precipitated by pressure that we as adults put on kids for a quick response. We ask a question, we expect a response immediately. And for a lot of these kids, it takes a few moments to process their thoughts and even think it through and we pressure them.
Number 4: So another reason why students might lie is avoidance. They don’t want to do what they’ve been asked to do or back to the skills, they may not even have the skills to even know where to start so they avoid starting all together. They avoid doing the thing and then they lie about it.
Number 5: Is that they feel beaten down. They feel particularly once they get to middle and high school, they’ve had so many experiences where they’ve tried so hard. It just hasn’t gotten them anywhere when they do something wrong, with all of this attention around that, but when they do something right and nobody notices it. So what their experiences is, they can’t win, they’re beaten down, they’re exhausted and they’re sick of it. So they lie. They don’t want to deal with it anymore.
Number 6: The next one is an interesting one and that is the thrill. When I was a teenager, I enjoyed getting away with stuff. So some kids enjoy lying like it’s fun. It’s thrilling. I’m not saying that that’s right cuz it’s not but it’s something that some people experience.
Number 7: They don’t know what to say. And this has to do with the pressure for the quick response, but they legitimately don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. When you say “Why did you do that?” They don’t know.
Number 8: Not engaging. What we are asking them to do not only might it be difficult for them or super challenging or beyond what they are capable of doing when we looked at all aspects of the thing. So for those of you parents that are like “I know they’re smart. I know they can do it,” it’s not about smart. It’s about all the skills, the executive function skills and the intelligence that are required to do, not just the intelligence. Then we’re like “You’re being lazy, you’re not being motivated just need to motivate yourself. You just need to try harder, just need to put forth your efforts,” Well, they don’t have the skills a lot of time. But anyhow, the number eight was not engaging, and what that means is that we are asking them to do something that is not engaging. For example worksheets, for example, that are boring and that are not engaging, or writing about topics that are not engaging to them, or reading books that are not engaging to them, or doing other types of busywork that’s not engaging for them.
Number 9: Very important. They’re lying because there is not secure attachment. I’m not blaming anybody but the child does not feel secure, this is very important, to tell you the truth. For whatever reason, they do not feel secure, which means safe. They do not feel safe to tell you that. They feel threatened if they tell you the truth. And usually that’s because we, the adults, train them to feel unsafe in those situations usually with punishment or condescension or shame.
Number 10: And finally number 10, which I mentioned a little bit before is my story is it’s a habit. Sometimes they’re lying for no good reason and they’re like, “Why did I even just lie about that. I wish I didn’t lie about that,” and it has become a habit.
So I have eight solution ideas for you when it comes to lying.
Number 1 Solution: You have got to have healthy and securely attached relationships with the kids that you were working with. If you want them to be honest with you. One of the ways that I’m able to help the students, one of the most important things that I do, maybe the most important thing that I do when I’m working with these complicated resistant kids who’re struggling or failing, who don’t want help, who don’t want to be there. What I have to do is I have to build a relationship with them where they know, “Seth’s got my back. Seth gets it, Seth gets me. Seth is understanding. He sees me, he hears me. I feel secure that he’s not going to make me feel bad about this, that I am okay with Seth, like he’s got my back.” So my number one solution is you have got to build a relationship. You have got to build healthy securely, look up secure attachment, and start looking up attachment theory, and learn everything you can about that because it is everything in this game.
Number 2 Solution: Help them understand what’s going on somatically. As a culture, we do not respect and value the somatic experience that we’re having, we are not connected to our bodies, we’re not aware of what our responses are. We just listen to our thoughts and feelings and think they’re facts and just go with them. And we’re impulsive and we just, you know, that’s how we are in this culture generally. To help a child learn what’s going on somatically, “I noticed your shoulders go up when I asked you that. What’s going on, you okay? I noticed your face crunched. I noticed your face look tight. What’s up? Oh, I know noticed you’re scrunched over,” you know to start to help them understand what’s going on somatically. And that might mean you learning more about somatics as well.
Number 3 Solution: How I set it up when I think they might lie to me. So when a student, when I’m suspecting that we’re in a situation where I know that a kid that has lied a lot and I’m about to ask him about something. You know I’m often working with students with their schoolwork. I got a kid. We got some school stuff going on. I figured out that they didn’t tell me the whole truth about something. How I set it up is very important and the way that I set up this conversation is I set it up, I say “Hey, I’m about to ask you something. I want you to be really honest with me. You’re not in trouble. I’m not angry in any way. I am on your side. I’m here with you, but we need to figure this out so that we can move forward. Are you ready for the question?” And then maybe they say yes, or maybe they say no, or whatever but usually they’ll be like, yeah. Okay. It’s about X Y and Z. Okay here I go. So I’m setting it up. I’m allowing them to prepare for the situation. I’m not blind-siding them. I’m not putting pressure on them. I’m giving them a safe space, used to mention holding space, to share what’s going on. I am not disappointed with them. It’s like hey you’re safe, let’s unpack this. How can I help you? I am here to serve you, to help you, to be a service to you, to help you get through this stuff. What’s up? So, and then?
Number 4 Solution: Helping them with their awareness of lying. They may not, and probably are not, because a lot of it is very subconscious. It’s a response, it’s a reaction, they’re not thinking it through obviously. So helping develop the awareness of lying in a safe way with no shame. “Hey, dude, what’s up what’s going on? You’re not in trouble, but I want to understand this. How are you?” So helping them and then unpack how it happened and help them develop an awareness, a safe awareness of that. Now not only just being aware of their lying, but the next one summarizes why they’re lying.
Number 5 Solution: So helping them uncover that lying usually has to do with a fear of something. A fear of feeling threatened, feeling unsafe. “What are you afraid of? What are we afraid of? What might happen if you told the truth?” That’s the fear. Okay, so helping them develop an awareness of why.
Number 6 Solution: Patience. When we are working with these kids, we have to be patient and kind and compassionate with them. We have to be super patient with them. And patient about how long it takes them to respond. And if they respond and they just lied and we know it one hundred percent they just lied to us, patiently hanging in there. Be like, “Woah, I’m not sure that that’s the whole truth. Is there anything else you want to tell me?” And having patient conversation. We’re so boom-boom-boom, pressure pressure pressure, you know.
Number 7 Solution: Having heart-to-heart conversations with them. Sometimes we just got to call them on their crap and have a heart-to-heart and be like, “Dude. Can I have a talk with you? I want to be real honest with you, I care about you and I see that you lied about this. I really don’t care about that. But I do care about your future and what’s going on. How can I help you? Why are you doing that? Like help me understand what’s going on?” So heart-to-heart. But a heart-to-heart that is detached, and that is set up. So again, we got to set them up and be like, “Hey, here’s what’s coming. I’m not going to blindside you, you can say whatever you want. I will not judge you, I will not punish you. I need to know.” But also being detached when they say stuff not being like, “Oh, that was really bad. You’re a bad person,” you know, but being detached. “Hey, I can be objective about that. Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t know this,” or “Okay, tell me more.” We have to be detached or else they’re going to feel number eight.
Number 8 Solution: Finally number eight. If we want to help a kid stop lying, when we have these talks, when we’re working with dishonesty, there can’t be shame. We shame so much. “Why did you do that? Why’d you lie to me?” Blah blah blah. But like we have to understand that there’s a reason. We want to uncover the reason. And shaming them is going to do the opposite of what we want to do. What we want to do is help them learn to be more honest. Not perfectly honest because it’s a spectrum and we have to get more and more honest. They’re not going to go from 0 to 100 overnight. But, how do we start building their ability to be more honest. They have to feel safe. They have to feel secure, and if we shame them they are not going to be and it is going to backfire on us and they will just get better at lying to us.
Again, my name is Seth with SethPerler.com. I’m an executive function coach out of Boulder, Colorado. I’m really glad you’re here. If you haven’t subscribed to my site SethPerler.com, I send out a great free gift, a Student Success tool kit for students when you sign up, and I’ll send you my weekly blog updates on Sundays. If you haven’t subscribed on YouTube, subscribe that supports my channel, thumbs up it, leave a comment. What have you learned about lying? Why does it happen? What are the solutions? Have you done it yourself as an adult? Why do you do it? Share that with us. Have you done it as a child, does your child do that? Have you had some great breakthroughs? Leave some feedback in the comments below if you want. Have a fantastic day. I’ll see you next week.