Lying is not necessarily evidence of a character flaw or lack of connection with reality. Children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life due to abuse and neglect lie for self-protection. Such is their profound insecurity about their worth and the accessibility and responsiveness of adults in a caregiving role, they lie to preserve connection and avoid exacerbating pervasive feelings of shame.
Lying reflects the child or young person’s desire to desire to make and maintain relational connection with others and be viewed in a positive light. As such, lying is not evidence of antisocial tendencies. Nevertheless, lying is self-defeating as it can perpetuate the feeling of being beyond the genuine approval of others. As a result, the child or young person struggles to truly realise a positive sense of self.
For children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life, lying comes from a place of shame and insecurity. As such, disapproval and sanctions for lying only exacerbate the reasons for lying and perpetuate the behaviour.
We need to be realistic. Most people lie, sometimes. However, if we wish to reduce this self-defeating behaviour we need to help the child or young person achieve and maintain a more positive sense of self and relational security.
When interacting with the child or young person who lies often, acknowledge their experience with your words and projected emotion, respond to their needs, and leave them feeling competent and worthy. The child or young person who has a healthy sense of their worth and feels secure about their relationships with others has less need of lying. They regulate their behaviour in consideration of their worth and relationships. You will know you are getting somewhere when they begin to take responsibility where previously they might have lied.
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