Lying is one of those things that’s as old as Adam and Eve. And whether it’s a little white lie told to spare someone’s feelings, or a biggie – everyone, at some point or another, has fallen prey to the temptation.
So when I noticed my 6 year old foster daughter lying outright, I wasn’t too upset. In our house, there’s a zero tolerance policy about lying. The kids know that as long as they tell the truth, they won’t get into any trouble (beyond the natural consequences that would normally occur from their actions).
Up until now, simple consequences and consistency have worked wonderfully with her and her sister. So I figured the same would work now: explain to her lying is not okay, and then a consequence each time she lies, no matter what. And of course, praise when she tells the truth, even though it may be have been difficult for her.
So I was really surprised to see that not only did that not work, but she was lying even more than usual! And not just lying, but lying complete with tears and protestations – a real dramatic performance. And it wasn’t only about big things – she was even lying about things that didn’t matter to anyone at all, things which she knew I would never even blink an eye about.
After watching her and thinking about it for a day or so, I finally figured out why she was lying, and why there was suddenly such a downturn in her behavior. I think you’ll find it interesting, because it shows how critical it is that we understand how our children’s learning deficits affect how they learn in school, and at home.
Here’s what I realized: N.’s sequencer is still out of whack.
To help you understand what I mean, let me explain what the sequencer does, and why that had a critical impact.
Think of the sequencer as a train that goes from one station to the other. It’s job is to help us bring information – usually auditory, from one part of the brain, to the next one in line.
All language, whether spoken or written, is sequential. Whether you’re reading one word or ten, hearing a song, or telling a story, you need to do it in the right order in order to understand or be understood.
But kids whose language development is weak, are stronger in association. Their minds work like a bumblebee on speed. Their thoughts seem to be everywhere but where they should be – sharply focused on the task at hand. That’s great for creativity, but lousy for learning consequences.
That meant that every time N. received a consequence – positive or negative- about lying, she didn’t connect it directly to her behavior.
Picture this: I ask N. “Did you do it?” She insists, with tears and beseeching worthy of an Emmy, that “No! I NEVER did that!!” Whereupon incontrovertible evidence presents itself, showing that she told a lie.
I then gravely tell her that she told a lie, which she ruefully admits. That of course leads to a consequence, and an explanation (brief) afterwards of why it wasn’t okay. Sounds fine, right?
Well here is how N. interpreted it:
I told a lie - I told the truth- I got punished.
Well of course this wrought havoc, since according to that reasoning she lost out either way: tell the truth, and you get punished, tell a lie, and you get punished. Of course she should have realized that she didn’t tell the truth at first, and that’s why she got punished. But she didn’t.
After a bit of thought, here’s what I did:
First, I took away the consequence, and simply reminded her that she has to tell the truth.
Second, I stopped asking her if she was telling a lie if I knew the truth already. I realized that it simply confused her or tempted her to lie. (Hint: do as I say, not as I do J).
And that was it! Problem solved! It took about two or three days until “the truth and nothing but the truth,” was being proclaimed throughout our not- so -quiet halls.