By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
At Thrive Therapy Studio, we work with children and teens of all ages and often their parents are very concerned about one behavior in particular, lying. This is one topic that seems to come up over and over again regardless of the reason why we are seeing a child/teen in therapy. Parents ask all kinds of questions… Why does my child lie? How can I make them stop lying and tell the truth? I’m so frustrated, what do I do? What’s wrong with them? Are they a pathological liar?
Interestingly, lying in small doses is actually not a behavior that concerns me as a therapist. It shows a child or teen’s resourcefulness as well as their growing autonomy from their parents, which are all developmentally normal and generally considered good things. When we see a lot of lying, however, it is concerning to us as well as parents.
When parents talk to us about lying, it is often a conversation about what is wrong with their child or teen… Not so much about what they could be doing differently. Interestingly though, I am often going to focus more on the parent's behavior than the child or teen initially. First, I want to explore with the parent how their behavior may contribute to their child/teen’s lying behavior. Often, children and teens talk to me about being afraid to tell their parents the truth about things, even small mistakes that they make, because they have learned that their parents get really angry, yell, punish them, and generally “can’t handle the truth.”
Unfortunately, while understandable, these parent responses make children and teens feel unsafe around their parents and make them feel that they can’t really tell them things, particularly not hard things or mistakes they have made. For children sensitive to failure and who already struggle to admit their mistakes, this compounds the challenge of truth telling exponentially.
This brings me to the main way parents can prevent and reduce lying. Parents can prevent and reduce lying by responding to their child calmly and with an interest in finding solutions, rather than immediately jumping to blame, shame, and consequences for the child. For example, if you find out that your child did not do well on a math test, you felt they were well prepared for, rather than being angry and asking them “what they did wrong or how could this happen,” you can say something like, “I am so sorry to hear that test did not go the way you were hoping. It must have been hard to talk to me about it but I am so glad you did. What do you think might be helpful in the future or do you think there is anything you can do to improve this grade now?” If you respond in this way, your child is much less likely to hide grades in the future and to talk to you about how things are going academically.
This does not mean that consequences should not be given. At times, consequences are perfectly appropriate, they just should not be given in a hasty way out of anger or shame, but perhaps in a conversation with your child or teen. You can even ask them what they think would be appropriate as a consequence for the mistake or situation that came up. For example, if your child accidentally broke something in your home, the conversation might go something like this… “Thank you so much for telling me what happened, I can tell that was difficult. I’m disappointed that the window is broken but I do know that mistakes happen to all of us. What do you think you could do to prevent accidents like this in the future? What do you think would be a fair consequence?” Hopefully your child/teen would come up with something along the lines of being more careful to prevent this accident from happening again and then you could arrange for a way for them to help pay for the broken window. This makes the most sense as it is a natural consequence that results from cause and effect, something is broken and we pay to fix it.
Here are the basic steps for responding to difficult moments with your child or teen using the above example:
Through these steps and a lot of patience, you can definitely help your child or teen respond to you in a different way and create a culture of honesty in your family!
As always, thanks for reading and comments are always welcome regarding any issues around child therapy or teen psychotherapy services in San Diego by Thrive Therapy Studio.
If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapy Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy with one of us, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
If you would like to receive updated information about Thrive Therapy, please feel free to sign up for our newsletter through the following link: http://eepurl.com/cvGx5n.
By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
So, in the past 5.5 wonderful, sleep-deprived, crazy, amazing months with my lovely and at times challenging little baby, I feel that I have a somewhat different perspective on the challenges of parenting than I had in my pre-parent life as a parent coach and child and teen psychologist. I say somewhat different because I feel that much of the parenting values that I had developed over the years of working with families remain the same for me. I truly feel that I have tried very hard to honor the fact that even while I have been a “parenting expert” for many years, when it comes to actually being a parent I have known absolutely nothing apart from the theoretical. I do feel that I was well prepared for parenting in the sense that I theoretically was aware of challenges that come up. While I now know that I had no idea of how the challenges would affect me emotionally, I am grateful for the years I have spent with families and parents that have helped shape who I am as a person, therapist, and now parent.
As I mentioned, my perspective on parenting is different because I now know what it is to have my heart living outside my body. I had no idea just how busy a life can be as a new mother. Never have I understood more the urge to protect someone at all costs. Or the urge to just weep with love, a different love than I have ever experienced or even could wrap my head around before. Or the urge to drive myself completely crazy with questions, insecurity, and unknowns.
The unknowns of parenting have been particularly difficult for me. As many readers may know, I refer to myself often as a “recovering perfectionist.” I say “recovering” because I still have many perfectionistic tendencies that I recognize and try hard to work through differently. I’ve learned that beating myself up, feeling that my worth is wrapped in whatever I perceive as success in that moment, or expecting perfection even when I don’t believe in perfection just doesn’t make sense anymore. As I was saying, the unknowns of parenting really challenge me my so-called “recovery.” I feel so much more lately… more raw, more insecure, more love, more uncertain, and that there is so much more to know and understand all the time. I also feel so compelled to be “good at” being a mom or that I am doing the “right” things that it can be tough to recognize what is going well. Plus, there are so many ideas about “right” when it comes to parenting that there really is no benchmark apart from loving your kids and trying to recognize and meet their needs.
For example, I recently had to travel to my hometown in Michigan for the funeral of my beloved grandmother. The decision making process was so much more complicated around this trip than I ever understood pre-parenthood. Do I take the baby? Does my husband come? Do I even need to go? Are we ready to take our son on a possibly germ infested and flu infested trek across the country? How will I handle feeding him if I take him or not (since I exclusively pump his milk, this is always a consideration for us but more complicated with traveling)? How will I pump either way? Most of all… Am I a bad mom for leaving him? Am I a bad mom for taking him on this ridiculously long trip across the country for a 36 hour stay? The list of questions goes on and on. Even though I typically am no longer as concerned with what others think of me as I’ve grown as an adult and professional, a lot of my fear was wrapped up in how others would perceive me. Not just, am I a bad mom, but will others think I am a bad mom? What will people think if he cries on the plane?
For someone who has a tendency to overanalyze (perhaps as a hazard of my profession as a therapist), the amount of time I can spend thinking about my parenting decisions is truly absurd. Some days, I am so deep in the whole of “how do we start him on solids” or “how do we ever figure out why he does/doesn’t sleep” that I could spend hours googling only to find “experts” with all different, and often opposite, opinions. Other days, I feel in my heart that it’s okay. I can research but not drive myself crazy with it. I have this sense of knowing that I am the right parent for my son and that though I will make mistakes, I will be okay, he will be okay, and our little family will be okay. These days are experienced as hopeful and filled with love and gratitude.
While my world has been completely shook up and is still in the process of resettling, I would not trade this for anything. Yes, I am exhausted and overwhelmed in a way that I never imagined. But I am also so much happier and filled with love and purpose. My new goal is to figure out ways that I can take on the challenges of parenting while managing my expectations of myself and my little family. Hopefully that way I can have more hopeful, loving, and grateful days and a few less raw, overanalyzed, anxious days.
If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304. We would love to support you on your parenting journey either through individual, family therapy, child/teen therapy, or parent consultation!
As always, thanks for reading and comments are always welcome regarding any issues around child or teen psychotherapy services in San Diego by Thrive Therapy Studio.
To stay in the loop on the services offered and to receive updated information about Thrive, please feel free to sign up for the newsletter through the following link: http://eepurl.com/cvGx5n.
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