Episode 21

Lying

March 7, 2022

[Kyle]: Today, we're going to cover a topic that is so common in so many families and it's the topic of lying and kids not being honest with you and so, today Sara and I are going to discuss how to create an atmosphere in your family that values the truth and that raises honest kids that have integrity. So, I hope you enjoy.

[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 21 of The Art of Raising Humans. I'm Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: And today we want to tackle an issue that so many parents get very, very frustrated with; I know we have at times in the past too. It's when our kids lie to us. I want to get to that issue, first, I want to say I hope everybody had a happy valentine's day a few weeks ago, this episode is going to be posted on, you know, the first week of march and so, we're recording this a couple days after valentine's and before we get into the issue of lying, I wanted to share-- There was this really cool thing that Sara did with our kids, I think she stole it off of Pinterest, is that right or where did you get it from?

[Sara]: I saw it on a couple places, yeah, Pinterest and growth minds.

[Kyle]: So, something that we had never done before, but tying into the growth mindset kind of stuff. Sara was cutting out hearts and, kind of won't you explain what your goal in doing that was?

[Sara]: It was to practice seeing my children and letting them know what I see in them. So, a little different than just a praise, but just their character, their the qualities about them that I love and just to build that self-concept, build relationship, connection to them and bring just, this deep meaning of love, because Valentine's could just be “oh, [Unintelligible] romantic love”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, [Unintelligible] candy and we hug each other, yeah.

[Sara]: Right, but just a celebration of love and relationship.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, you did that one heart a day or was it a couple hearts a day?

[Sara]: I did one heart a day. So, I cut out hearts and I wrote something on the heart and I stuck it to their bedroom door, so--

[Kyle]: And you stuck it to my mirror and you did it for me as well.

[Sara]: And I did one for you as well and I stuck it in the mirror.

[Kyle]: And so, it was really fun to see how excited the kids were every day, so looking forward to the next heart they were going to get. So, just wanted to throw that out as a little tidbit, that doesn't have to be valentine's day when you do that, you could do that any time of the year, but it just so happened we did it this year and I think we'll keep doing it, because the kids really loved it and they want to keep those hearts and I think the word that I would say Sara's [Unintelligible] praise, it was just encouraging. Just encouraging the kids, letting them know what you see in them and it's just a really good way to build up that bank account with them too, to really strengthen the connection with them.

[Kyle]: Okay. So, now on to lying, okay? So, I know this is an issue in any home and it's gonna be anytime you have kids, because it's part of development, the kids are going to attempt to lie. They are going to-- I want to kind of delve into it, kind of what the causes are. I want to even say, what's the positive aspects of our kids lying and what are the negatives and kind of, what can we do to help raise honest kids? Because I know it's a really passionate thing. We're about is, we want our kids to be honest, we want our kids to have integrity, these are values we have, these are values we try to practice in our marriage, we try to model to them and I think everybody listening would be like “that sounds great, I would love to have a kid who's honest, who has integrity, because we know the world needs more of that”, all right? So, first of all I’ll ask you Sara, what do you believe causes children to lie? Can you just give me some possible causes?

[Sara]: Okay. I would say a couple big ones to me are, one, the fear of punishment, the fear of something going wrong if I tell you the truth. So, kids usually know what you want to hear and so, but then you're going to get upset and I think it could be an actual punishment, they're afraid of an actual punishment. “You're grounded, you’re time out”, whatever, but they also can just be afraid of your disappointment.

[Sara]: And they know you're going to be upset with them and sad, and kids want their parents to be happy and to think the best of them and so, if I tell you this yucky truth, you're gonna think less of me, you might not love me as much, it's a threat to the relationship, so I’m just going to tell you what I think you want to hear and then, I think sometimes for kids, it's this sort of “I wish this were the truth”.

[Sara]: You know, this sort of like “hey, go clean your room” and then you come back later “did you clean your room?” “Yes, I did” and then you go look and you think “what!? No, you didn't!”. But it's sort of this “oh, kids still want what they want”, even though we have our agenda, they still want what they want.

[Sara]: So, especially in the younger years, you see this sort of almost magical or wishful thinking of “oh well, I’ll just say it is done and then, maybe it's a win-win, you get what you want and I get what I want”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, that's great. So, I would go back to what you're saying add-on that the number one cause that I think you and I see with kids, is that fear of the reaction, you know?

[Kyle]: And typically, that is punishment. Similar to what we would be as adults, because once again, it's called the Art of Raising Humans. So, we're talking about just human beings and these kids in particular are just little human beings, but if you're at a job and you have a boss who's really reactive and your boss asks you a question, I think almost every one of us would try to tailor the answer to best fit what we think the boss wants to hear because, what if the boss flies off the handle and fires me? And I don't think it's a fireable offense, or what if the boss flies off the handle and just really blows it up to something that they didn't need to build up to? And everybody knows this boss is really reactive, yeah. So, I think it is definitely the fear of the reaction and sometimes I think, Sara, I hear a lot from kids, it's even the fear like you said, the disappointment, but almost like “if I tell the truth, I don't think my parents can handle it”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, “I think it's gonna break their heart and mom's gonna start crying or dad's gonna get really quiet and I don't want to cause all that. So, when they ask me a question, I’m going to try to tell them an answer that I think they actually want to hear. I don't think they actually want to hear the truth; I think they only want to hear a truth that is palable to them”. It reminds me of a movie I really liked, maybe some of the listeners have heard of it, called “A Few Good Men”, where there's a scene with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson and Tom Nicholson, I mean, jack Nicholson’s on the stand and Tom Cruise says to him “you can't handle the truth!”

[Kyle]: And oh, I think Jack Nicholson says it to Tom Cruise. Yeah, “you can't handle the truth!” and I feel like that is so true for so many parents, is they'll ask a question and then the kid tells them what they believe is the truth and the parent gets mad at them for doing that or the parent falls apart or the parent-- I’m almost thinking of a story one time when Abby and I had a conflict and Abby said something like “I like mom more than I like you” and that really hurt my feelings and I remember following up with her later and said “what did you mean by that?”. She said “dad, I like you sometimes, but sometimes I don't. I know it's confusing” and in that moment, I kind of wanted to be like “don't say that to me! It hurts my feelings!” [Laughter]

[Kyle]: But I think she was only like three or four at the time, she was trying to express something in a really honest way and I tried in that moment to just not be reactive, to just receive it and go “what is this saying?”, you know? So, I think that's the-- If parents want to raise honest kids, they really have got to be conscious of the reaction to the truth the kid's sharing.

[Sara]: Yeah, I think you have to create this safe space and if-- We all as adults avoid just what you said, we avoid those sticky situations. How much more if you're a child, you're kind of fumbling through this new world of yours and to risk all of that for a truth and as teenagers, struggling with “what do I say? What don't I say?”. They're very aware of their peer group and cause and effect of those things, that it's really scary and so, we as the parent in the relationship, have to do that extra work to create a safe space, where they're going to come to us and see us as people who are safe to talk to about the problems.

[Sara]: They usually are going to know “okay, this is a problem, but who can I talk to that is going to come alongside me and help me not come down on me?”. They're not gonna come to you if you're just gonna-- They can predict your reaction to it.

[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, I almost think as a kid, I thought, Sara, “I tell the truth, I’m 100% in trouble. I tell a lie, 50-50 chance I get away with it”.

[Kyle]: And I just think that's what a lot of kids are thinking, is “no matter what, they're going to be upset at me, maybe if I lie, I can get away with it” and I don't know how I could fault anybody from doing that. I’m even thinking as you say that, that when kids come and see us in counseling sessions, I know so many times parents have told me, specifically about teenagers, they'll say “he or she is going to tell you what they think you want them to say” and I’ll tell the parent “Everybody does that, everybody comes in and tells me what they think I want to hear” and so, do I think the kid's lying to me? No, I just think the kid is telling me the story that they think I can accept. They're not going to tell me a story they think I’m going to be like “what did you--!?” and come down on them. They're afraid I will judge them, they're afraid I’ll think they're a horrible person, they don't want that and so, I think it's incumbent upon me as the counselor, in that relationship with the kid, to create a safe enough space where they don't have to present a false story. Where they can present a true story, that they know I won't judge them for, that I can just accept it.

[Sara]: And this creates in them-- If we can create-- I think it gets a little scary as a parent, because you think “oh no, I mean, if I create this safe space and they just think they-- Then they just will run, they'll just do anything and they'll--” and it actually doesn't have that effect. If they feel like you're a safe person I can pour any of this out to, they learn that internal self-control, not just this external fear punishment control, but they learn that inside and they see you as a person they can continue to come to as they head into their adult years and you're just going to come alongside them, help them see the problem, help them figure out what to do about the problem and it has the opposite effect of, sometimes I think we get scared is going to happen if we do that and it's [Unintelligible].

[Kyle]: Yeah, and I think when I’m scared of that, it tells more about me than it does about the kid, that I’m scared of the truth. I think the truth does set us free. So, if I really want my kids to be free, free from the fear, I want them to be set free to have self-control, to be responsible, take responsibility, all that stuff, then I need to provide a place that really says “we value truth above what we feel”, right? I really rather have the truth. I even know some parents have done a thing where they've made like a truth table and so, just to prove to the kid “you can tell me whatever” and it's just been amazing to see how the kids want it. The kids are like-- When I tell the kids “You want to do that?”, the kids will be like “yes! I’d love to have a table! I could just tell them and my parents really won't blow up at me if I tell them?”. I mean, they actually want to, because if-- If any of the listeners, I know Sara, I lied as a kid and every time I lied, there was a consequence within me. I felt shame, I felt at distance, I felt a burden of that lie, that I had to keep it up, I had to tell both mom and dad and frame it in the right way and it was heavy and when I could just tell the truth, it was like “ah” [Relief sounds] Like a breath of fresh air.

[Sara]: Yeah, I think it is, it's such a weight, we've all had that. Even if it's just a “I hold back and I just am not telling you”. Maybe I’m not even lying, I’m just holding back and it's a weight that you carry around and you don't want those-- I think parents know lying or just not telling, it creates this distance in the relationship and a weight that they carry around and if they have a truth table, a place where they feel like “okay, I can lay it all out there”, it frees them and it brings you back together. Because you're right, lying does separate relationship and you can-- I think you could-- Especially your older kids, you can tell them “The lying hurts our relationship and I don't want lying in our relationship”, but then you also have to be honest and say “I’m sorry, I’ve done this and I know coming down on you this way, has made it harder for you to be truthful with me. So, this is what I’m gonna do now”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, I’m gonna-- Change that dance up, okay?

[Kyle]: So, what age would you say, Sara, kids start practicing lying? When do you think developmentally, they typically try to do that?

[Sara]: Is this a quiz about it? [Laughter]

[Kyle]: No [Laughter] I’m asking you-- 

[Sara]: Your face was like “all right, I’m testing you here”.

[Kyle]: I’m not testing you.

[Sara]: No, it starts very, very young and so, it can be different with each kid, but I’d say preschool and you could actually see it before that, but I would say it's not necessarily an intentional lie, especially for that age. Their perception of reality it's developing, it's changing, but heading into preschool, you'll definitely see that lying behavior begin.

[Kyle]: So, what-- I know this may seem like a weird question because we've already talked about the negative aspects of lying and what it can do, but what are some positive parts of lying? What's some positive outcomes? I mean, when you see a kid lie, how could that be a positive thing?

[Sara]: Okay. So, it's actually a sign of intelligence, I mean, it's good if when a kid can go “huh, okay, let me think about this” and it's that cause and effect, “if I say this, you're gonna do that and if I say this, then this will happen” and so, it's actually their ability to play through scenarios and pick one which they think is in their interest. So, in some ways if you never had your-- If your child wasn't able to do that, that would be a concern. It's developmentally normal and appropriate for every child to at some point lie, so if you see that, just be curious about it.

[Sara]: What's happening in the-- You know, are they just testing it out? You know and you can begin to work with them at that young age about it, but you don't necessarily need to be super concerned or “oh no, they're going to be a liar for the rest of their life!” and you see them, you know, you see that whole long path ahead of you and you realize--

[Kyle]: Yeah, fear gets to you, yeah, “I’ve got to stop that”.

[Sara]: Yeah, there's a part of it that you should just go “oh, we're in this stage of development, this is normal. I’m so glad you're smart enough to be able to do that or have the ability to do that”.

[Kyle]: Well, the intelligence is, Sara, is seeing a pattern and then going “oh, I think the outcome is going to be bad. I’ll change the pattern or change what I’m doing in the pattern, to then get a better outcome” and that is a sign of higher IQ, the ability to do that. It's just a skill, they're using it as a skill to say “how can I do it?”. So, what's good about that is the kid feels empowered to change the outcome. That same skill in regards to feeling that empowerment, you're going to use later on to help them change outcomes like where they've had it-- Falling out with a teacher or falling out with a friend, you know? Instead of the kid feeling like a victim, like they can't change the outcome, you'd want a kid to go “oh, I can change the outcome, I’ve done it in the past by lying, maybe I could do it this time by being assertive or by being honest or by--”. You know, I want them just to see “oh, lying was just the pathway you use to achieve the change, but you don't need to use that”, you know?

[Kyle]: So, I want to encourage everybody who's listening, that I actually-- When a kid does that, I see it as a natural part of the development and I see it as them basically saying “stories matter. So, I want to make sure I develop a story that I think gets the best outcome for me”. I mean, even it's from as little as exaggerating a story, I know I do that a lot of times, right? You're telling a story-- I’ll even know as I’m telling you, I’ve embellished it a little bit, but it made the story more fun, right? So, if someone was watching that, they might “he lied, he didn't give a 100% the truth, he changed some of the facts” and we could get hung up on that, but it's really nothing more than telling a story, right? And so, I find some kids really are great storytellers and that typically leads them to trying to lie more [Laughter] Because they're like “wow, I really know how to--” Other kids just aren't as good a storyteller, so lying's a little more difficult for them, but it doesn't mean they're a better kid, you know?

[Kyle]: So, I would just approach it in that, if just a kid is trying out a new skill to change an outcome and if I don't want my kid to be a liar, I want it to be an honest kid, I just need to help them use that skill instead, right? And I’ve got to also show them that being honest does feel better than lying, you know?

[Kyle]: Okay. So, I know it is important to us again for our kids to be honest, so how-- What’s some specific ways you'd say you do, Sara, to help the kids be honest with you?

[Sara]: Well, I sort of have this standard with them where, if they're worried-- I’ve said it many times, if you're ever worried that you're gonna-- That I’m gonna be really upset if you tell me something, I just let them know that is not my-- Because I have that wiring in me, so sometimes I might go “oh!” and then I think “oh no”. My reaction is not going to encourage them to come to me in the future and I really want to lay that groundwork and so, I just tell them, I say-- All you have to do is say “I need to tell you something and I’m worried about what you're going to say or what's going to happen or how you're going to react” and so-- And I know if I-- All you have to do is tell me that and then that tells me “okay, just get myself in that calm zone and be ready to receive it, see it as a «now, okay we have a problem, let's approach this problem»” and I think that has helped, because some sometimes they have used that, you know? If they're worried or nervous to tell me a truth, then they tell me “I’m worried about telling you something, I need to tell you something”.

[Kyle]: Well, and I love what you just did there, Sara, is a part of the thing that I wrote my notes was, I want parents to know it's not just our responsibility, it is theirs too. So, I’m not just saying it's our responsibility of course, to create a place of safety to where they feel like we can handle the truth they're going to share, but also knowing we're human and sometimes truth is hard to hear. I love what one person said one time, I heard this where he says “it isn't so much that the truth hurts, which the truth can, but that truth reveals what was already hurting”, you know?

[Kyle]: And so, I think so many times our reaction to the truth our kids might share, even from as small as “yeah, I cleaned the room” and like, we go up and like” no, you didn't”, is there's a hurt that it's revealing that's why I’m mad about it. I’m hurt because I want a relationship with you that we seemingly don't have or somehow, I want a kid who has certain skills and they aren't showing it and so, somehow that's-- I feel like I’m failing my kid, right? So, there's all these types of hurt reveals, but I like what you're saying is, I do want to emphasize there is a responsibility that you give to the kid, also to be honest and you just gave them the skill by saying “hey, can you be mindful of your reaction to me? Can you be thinking about--” [Laughter] “I was kind of thinking about not telling you the truth, but I’m going to take a risk, can you handle it, please?”.

[Sara]: Yeah. So, I think you do wanna-- We talk about that, what's our value system as a family and being honest is something that we value and sometimes it takes courage to be honest, so we talk to our kids about that. I do view it as my primary responsibility to make the safe place, but then it's always their choice to then step out and take that risk and be honest and I can just help increase the likelihood that they'll be honest, but I can't get in their brain and control them and make them honest, make them tell me those truths. I can just control myself and my reaction to it and if I have been coming down on them a lot and I have that pattern, it's going to take longer to rework that system and I tell them, you know, “this is what lying does to our relationship, this is what we can do if we're honest with each other”. We have those conversations outside of times, where a lie or something is the topic, we just talk about that outside of that, to build that foundation.

[Kyle]: And we're kind of shining a light. I wanted to share that quote that “what you focus on, you'll get more of”, okay? So, I do kind of want to wrap up with the idea that typically, you and I even don't use that word lying.

[Kyle]: And I typically tell parents, I don't know how it's helpful like, it's not to say they didn't, it's not to say you can't describe it that way.

[Kyle]: I just would focus on the fact that we didn't tell the truth and why am I doing it? Because I want the light to be shining on truth, you know? So, we didn't tell the truth, now let's tell the truth, you know?

[Sara]: For example, I would say like, with the bedroom thing, I wouldn't go up and say “you lied to me about your room!”. I would go up and say “oh, your room doesn't look clean to me, how can we get this--?” and I would just move into the solution. “Oh, you wished you had done that or--”, but I would just go into what the truth is, I wouldn't spend a lot of focus and energy on the fact that they lied.

[Kyle]: I’d even say-- I tend to blow up more than you do and that's a big issue for me, you're much more calm than I am, so the kids have said on many occasions it's harder to be truthful sometimes with me, because they're afraid of my reaction, right? And so, in those conversations I will typically, if I think they haven't told the truth, I will come back and be curious and just say “what was so difficult about telling me the truth about that?” and that's the question and then they'll say “well, I was really afraid you were gonna do that” and even then, sometimes I have challenged them, especially as they've gotten older of like “I’m working on that, I actually want to do-- Your mom and I are trying to create a safe space, but I also want to challenge you that I think truth trumps all of that and there may be occasions in your life where you have a boss or another adult who you think can't handle the truth, it doesn't mean I don't say it, I want you to still tell the truth, you know? and that maybe my own imperfections give you those opportunities, you know? So, I’d really like you at times, even when you're not certain that I can handle it or even when you're not certain, you're going to get an outcome for me that you would like, you still try and tell the truth, you know?”

[Kyle]: The story that comes to my mind that Dr. Markham specifically gave us some advice on when we talked to her about this, was when Abby was little, she wanted to go-- I don't know if you remember this, but she wanted to go get wet. There were some kids with some hoses, it was summertime, super hot. She wanted to go put on a bathing suit and go get wet with these neighbor kids and I was mowing the lawn, I was hot, I was sweaty, I had a podcast going or something in my ears, I didn't really want to be disturbed, I’m kind of focused. She comes by and you know, she just touches my leg “hey, dad, can I get your attention?”. I’ve got to turn the podcast off, I’ve got to turn the lawnmower off and she's like “hey, I want to go get wet” and I was like “no, I don't want to mess with that right now, I’m trying to get the lawn done”. So, she goes back inside and I start mowing the lawn again, then I see her running across the street in her bathing suit and I was like “what's that about?”.

[Kyle]: So, I asked her to come back, “oh, mom said I could”. “Oh, okay”. So, now I’m kind of annoyed at you [Laughter] I’m kind of annoyed that you, Sara, had somehow told her she could. So, I come into the house a little bit annoyed and I say to you “how come you told her she could go when I told her--”. You said “she told me you said she could” and I was like “what!? Oh my gosh, this is like the playing off, we-- She just played us off each other”, you know? And so, I was kind of upset, there was some hurt there, but I remembered something Markham had said, was like “you don't need to address that right now like, wait until you’re back into a better space in your brain, when I’m back in my prefrontal cortex”.

[Kyle]: I was not there, I was wanting to punish, I was wanting to yell at her. So, I came over to her, called her over and I just said “hey, I know what happened here, you know? I can see how I told you no, you went to mom--” and then she first denied it, which kids will do, they'll be defensive because they don't want to be in trouble, right? And so, I was like “hey, I know you don't need to defend yourself, you know? You already got your bathing suit on, why don't you go ahead and go get wet, yeah? And we'll talk about it later” and I waited so I was in a better space and then when I could got alone with her and we were both in a better space, she was all cleaned up, I was all cleaned up, I was able to talk to her about these strings that attached to us, these strings that have been formed over many, many years of a lot of honest positive connection times that we've had and I told her “today kind of broke one of those strings, it made me kind of second guess a little bit about when you say something to me, can I actually trust it?” and I asked her “do you want that in our relationship?” and she, you know, she was like four or five at the time and she said “no, I don't want that, I want you to trust me”. “Well, then we've got to be honest with each other, honey, you know?”

[Kyle]: So, I said “you know, I would like you to be honest with me, can you do that?”. She said “yes” and then she apologized and it was great, but the whole emphasis was on those strings that attach us and keeping those strings intact and every kid I’ve ever spent time with, wants those strings intact, they don't want to break them and you know, in that case and I was even honest with her, I said no to her because I was just annoyed with her asking me. I was busy, I didn't want to deal with all this, right? So, I told her in the future, I’ll pause and I’ll think about it. The answer still may be “no”, but maybe “yes”, because I’ll give more thought to it and she agreed that in the future, she would not do the whole-- And she's never done that, I don't remember a time she's ever played us off like that ever since then, you know?

[Kyle]: So, in kind of wrapping it up I just want to say the way we raise honest kids is by continually focusing on the truth and honesty, trying to model being honest people, showing them that we can handle the truth when they give it to us, creating a safe space, but even like you were saying, also giving them the skills to make it more likely we succeed at doing that. Would you add anything else to that?

[Sara]: No, I think that summarizes it well. It's a work in progress, we just have to remember that, this isn't something “I’m gonna do for two months and my kid will never lie again!”. We just need to realize it's gonna look different if you're talking about a four-year-old, a ten-year-old, a sixteen-year-old and is something we will work through with them in their life.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and I would just encourage you move away from talking about lying, you actually don't need to talk about that, I think you just talk about the truth. Keep talking about raising the value of the truth in our relationship, right? So, I hope this is helpful today to you, I know almost every family I know has issues with this, with their kids, so I hope it gives you a lot of tools of a different way of viewing it and I hope you have a great time raising these honest kids and now experiencing what that's like, to have kids who feel safe to come to you and just tell you the truth.

[Kyle]: Okay. So, have a great day.

[Sara]: Bye