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Hey, y’all, thanks again for tuning into the podcast. Glad to be here with you as always. My guests today are return guests. Rachel Kapp and Steph Pitts are here talking about lying and how lying shows up with the students we work with.
If you don’t know Rachel and Steph, then you should go back and check out their previous episodes on the podcast. They’ve been here two times talking about learning at home during the pandemic and executive functioning, and organizational skills. Both are fantastic episodes. We’ll link to those in the show notes. But today’s episode, like I said, is all about lying.
We talk about why learners lie, Rachel and Steph give a number of reasons why students feel compelled to lie to us as parents or clinicians. We talk about how to support learners when they’re lying, and how to just work with them and help them come up with alternatives to lying. Rachel and Steph give a number of anecdotes from their [00:02:00] practices that really help bring these concepts to life.
As always, this was just a super fun conversation. These women are incredibly dynamic. They are very bright. They do great work. I’m just lucky to have them on the show to showcase some of those skills.
So without further ado, let’s get to my conversation with Rachel and Steph.
Hey Rachel. Hey Steph. Welcome back to the podcast.
Stephanie: Thank you.
Rachel: Thanks for having us.
Stephanie: We’re happy to be here.
Dr. Sharp: I’m really glad to have you. Let’s see. Third visit. That means you are in the club.
Rachel: Do we get a jacket?
Dr. Sharp: The jacket is in the mailboxes, embroidery.
Rachel: With a crown.
Dr. Sharp: Everything. Serious club. I don’t know that I’ve had anybody on four times. So this is it.
Rachel: Now we have a goal.
Dr. Sharp: I love it. We’re already setting goals.
Stephanie: Of course. We’re therapists.
Dr. Sharp: Folks likely have heard you on the podcast before. Y’all are Ed therapists from California. Today we’re talking about why learners lie and I am super excited to talk about this because I have two little learners in my home. And so it’s personal and very professional as well.
Let me start with this question of, y’all tackle a lot of topics and think about a lot of things, see a lot of things. Why are you putting energy into this right now? How did you get keyed into this whole lying paradigm?
Rachel: I’ll share a [00:04:00] story because I think we can all learn from stories. I had a client that I was working with and one of the things that were starting to become a trend was that she was flat out lying with me. And let me tell you a little bit about her background in agent stuff.
She was in 10th grade. We had been working together for about a year. There’s a lot of intimacy and trust that we have with learners, especially when they’ve been long-term with us. I really liked her personally, which made it harder. I really came to Steph with it because I was all up in my feelings about it, taking it very personal, and also acknowledging that lying was a boundary for me and was triggering for me personally.
And so Steph and I started to have some deeper level conversations about why this was happening, and what we needed to do about it, me and my client. As we were having these conversations, it just seemed to be happening again and again with our teams. And one of the luxuries of having a podcast and being a podcaster is that you can sit and think about what you think about something. And so sitting with it really helped. Honestly, it’s an episode she actually came onto our podcast to talk about this and it’s a really popular episode. And so, it really resonated with our audience. Steph, what lights you up about this?
Stephanie: Back when we first started talking about this, I had a client who was such a phenomenal liar that nobody knew she was lying because she was getting away with these lies. Nobody caught her. Just brilliant at being able to lie. [00:06:00] I was the first one to catch. This was right when COVID hit and they were going into distance learning and she was doing stuff that nobody was catching on to.
I finally caught on and figured out what was going on. It also sparked this, why is she going to such great lengths to get away with things instead of just doing what was asked of her? I can’t tell you the level. I remember I showed Rachel what she was doing and I showed my team what she was doing and everyone was jaw dropped, like, wow, like that’s brilliant.
Rachel: Extreme effort and brilliant.
Stephanie: And so that’s what started this. Why are we lying? How is this happening in my practice and whatnot? There’s always some sort of layer of what they’re lying about. Are they lying to others? Are they lying to themselves? Where is the lie? How big is the lie? What is it about? So we really started getting more curious about why they were lying and what to do about it.
Dr. Sharp: I think we’ve all had that experience in either professional work, those of us who work with kids, or if you have kids, of course. I have experienced this so many times, this idea of why are you putting so much energy into lying when you could expend 25% of that energy and just do whatever you want?
Rachel: And what lying does to relationships is so difficult.
Stephanie: But it doesn’t take 25% of the effort. For us, it feels like 25% of the effort, but it’s not for them. So, that’s why we were getting [00:08:00] really curious about what was going on behind a lot of lying when it comes to emotionally charged tasks and homework, tests, studying, school, chores, all the things.
Rachel: Reading. Anything that was feeling really challenging. And Stephanie had to really coach me in my story with my client into how to separate the emotions out of it that I was feeling and really get curious about why, how, with what assignments and with what circumstances was the lying happening. What really got revealed with this particular client was how deeply she was lying to herself. And that’s really something that we see a lot with the learners that we work with.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I know we’re going to get into all of these layers and we already raised so many. There are so many directions that we could go.
So let’s start with the beginning maybe. And I will say this, I hope we might come back to this particular student that you were talking about Stephanie. I want to know the depths of this if we can somehow work that in if that comes back up.
Dr. Sharp: Let’s go to the beginning though and start with this whole idea of why this is happening. Y’all, it sounds like you’ve found a few different reasons why learners are going to lie. I’m curious what some of those are.
Stephanie: Kids, people in general.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I know. I hesitated that word.
Rachel: It’s human, right?
Stephanie: Right. There’s a lot of reasons, but the first and foremost is it’s hard. Something is hard and that is you do it to protect yourself. So when something is hard, you avoid it at all costs. And [00:10:00] if that includes lying, that includes lying. There are a lot of other reasons, but that’s really usually the first reason.
Rachel: Acknowledging that I think as a professional working with the client or the parent parenting a kid is okay. We always come from a belief system that when kids can, they will, and when they’re not, we have to get curious and not punitive. And that’s our mantra. We say it all the time. Anytime I’m out in the real world talking to people about the work that we do, that’s a line that we often say. Getting curious about what is hard allows us to have a conversation about it and specifically target that.
I think something else that we really have to honor and understand is that lying is extremely developmentally appropriate. There are milestones throughout a learner’s or a child’s development that they are experimenting the truth and with truth-telling and seeing what they can get away with and what they can’t get away with. And that’s when parenting has to step in and teachers have to step in and set limits and boundaries throughout that whole period of time.
Oftentimes, the learners that we’re working with are maybe beyond that developmental milestone, but we have to honor the fact that a lot of the time lying really works. Like cheating on a test for a lot of our learners, it works for them. And so we have to figure out solutions to offer up that aren’t painful. They have to be easier than how easy lying is.
Dr. Sharp: That sounds very challenging.
Stephanie: It is very challenging. The other thing is, when people lie, it’s a lot about shame and embarrassment. There’s a lot of shame [00:12:00] if you can’t do something you’re expected to do. You’ve been taught and you can’t do it, you’re embarrassed.
I talk about this on the podcast. I was a late reader and I was so embarrassed and I had so much shame about it. I faked my way through first grade and nobody knew that I couldn’t read because I had memorized all the words. It wasn’t until second grade that they figured out that I actually couldn’t read. I still have feelings about everybody else could read and I couldn’t.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that cuts deep. Kids know when they’re struggling compared to their peers.
Rachel: Yes. Usually, lying comes about when like Steph was saying, they didn’t understand. And that’s the easiest compensatory strategy that they have in their toolkit. And that’s where we come in and can give them an alternative, hopefully. A lot of the learners that we interact with as professionals lack impulse control too. And before they know it, they are in a pickle of the situation that usually they just dig deeper and put them and hope for the best.
Stephanie: Yeah. Take the heel heels in.
Dr. Sharp: Say a little bit more about that. What’s the connection between poor impulse control and lying?
Rachel: It’s a good question. I think the poor impulse control is that they don’t filter through what happens when.
Stephanie: For sure.
Rachel: Go ahead, Steph.
Stephanie: With kids or people who have ADHD, there’s now and not right now. So you’ve got, I’ll do it later, but then they don’t do it later. That turned into a lie, right? You were going to do it later, but you didn’t do it later.
Rachel: Here’s where lying is so layered is that when they are [00:14:00] telling you that they’ve already done something, let’s say, and they haven’t, they firmly plan on doing it. They believe they’re going to do it. So it’s not going to be a big deal. What they lack is the foresight to know how long something is going to take and why they’re avoiding it in the first place. And so, yes, there’s impulse control, but there’s also a fundamental belief that I’m going to rock this out a little bit, right?
Stephanie: Yeah. And the other thing I want to add is that when we talk about how students don’t understand something, they think they do understand, a lot of them. And then later on realize, and maybe don’t realize they don’t understand. And so that is also part of this because if you think you understand how to do it, and then you open it up and start getting into it, and then you don’t know what to do next,
Rachel: and it’s already been explained to you and so you don’t want to ask again
Stephanie: that’s embarrassing. That’s why there are a lot of layers too. They think they understand, but they don’t actually understand. And that’s not their fault.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I think that’s going to be an important takeaway, just that idea that kids do the best that they can when they can. Sometimes, it is conscious that they’re lying, and sometimes they truly believe in what they’re saying.
Rachel: 1000%. And that’s almost more challenging to us as the adults in the situation when they really believe it because it’s so obvious to us that it wasn’t going to happen. Sometimes there’s proof. Denial is so powerful for the learners that we work with and for the human experience too. It’s very easy for us to not see the things we don’t want to see. [00:16:00] And I think a lot of the times something else that is a trend and that can happen is that they already thought they did it. Like they genuinely think like we’re talking about task completion in the sentence and they think they’ve done it.
Stephanie: This happened last night in a session. This happens all the time. I say, did you complete that? Then my client says, yeah and I turned it in. I say, okay, let’s just look to make sure. And luckily she’s open enough to go, oh yeah, let’s look. And then she’ll go, “Oh, I thought I did that.”
Rachel: And what had happened was she thought about it.
Stephanie: She thought about doing it, but didn’t actually do it.
Rachel: Or did it, or opened up a Google doc and started doing it and then got distracted and walked away and in her mind, no, I did it, if that makes sense.
Dr. Sharp: I get that. I feel like I’ve had that experience a number of times where I’m like, did I say that out loud or did I do that thing I told you? I didn’t. I definitely thought about it a lot.
Rachel: Listen, it just happened to me yesterday. I was meeting with someone who’s doing some website work. I was always doing stuff and I was supposed to fill out this form. Look, I absolutely opened the form and in hindsight, I looked at it and I thought, not right now, and I closed it and then I had this meeting and they’re like, so you didn’t do it. And I’m like, I did or didn’t I?
Dr. Sharp: I like how we’re setting the stage just to expand the perspective a little bit that lying is not always about maliciousness.
Stephanie: Definitely not.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. It’s truly like a base defense mechanism. Avoidance and denial are basic defense mechanisms.
Stephanie: For sure. And you add in the amount of anxiety that’s out there and [00:18:00] perfectionism. Perfectionism is a form of anxiety. And so if you think you’re going to fail and not be able to do it, why try?
Rachel: And a lot of the learners and the people that we work with because we don’t just work with kids, we work with adults too, they’ve experienced a lot of what we will call unsuccess and it is how many times can you go back to the same thing and be unsuccessful at it, but keep knocking against that door.
Certain things are inevitable. Like if you’re trying to pass the Bar, that’s the only way to practice law. So you need to get through that barrier. You don’t have a choice. And so, there are a lot of emotions layered into it, but lying is not always malicious. I think we take it with malicious intent but it’s not always. It’s anxiety acted out. It’s a defense mechanism acted out. It’s our basic coping skill acted out. Sometimes it’s malicious, but not always.
Dr. Sharp: Right. I think it’s nice to highlight that. There are lots of reasons that people might lie. I’m trying to think of others. When we were talking ahead of time, you also said that there’s this idea of fear of the truth. I’m curious what you mean by that.
Stephanie: That’s that avoidance. Fear of not being able to be successful. Fear that you think that you’re good at something and then you’re not.
Rachel: Fear of the adult being disappointed and disappointing. With my client, she did not want to disappoint me because we did have such a good relationship. Fear of reaction from your parent or the teacher, or disappointing [00:20:00] themselves too.
Stephanie: It’s scary when you can’t do what you’re supposed to do because of you don’t know how to do it, or it’s feeling so overwhelming that you can’t get yourself to do it. A lot of this has to do with task initiation. Being able to start something that’s hard is hard.
Rachel and I were, we became board certified last year. It took us several years to really get going. And the ultimate end was the fact that she was pregnant and we had to get it done before she gave birth. And so once we had a firm deadline, you better believe we got it done. However, it had been in the works for a very long time because
Rachel: it’s been long discussed.
Stephanie: Yeah. Just getting started was so hard. So, you have to take that into account. What if you can’t do it and it’s something you want to do?
Dr. Sharp: I think that’s so true. I also wonder about kids or adults, that applies across the board, folks who have a certain self-image or perception or persona that they have put out in the world, and then if the behavior doesn’t match that, there’s some lying that might happen to avoid ruining whatever.
Rachel: Yeah. Or your productivity doesn’t match it. Your output doesn’t match. It’s tough.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. So there are a lot of reasons that people might lie. And that sounds like a lot of it does just center around the emotional component and not wanting to face the really hard stuff.
I want to go back to two things that y’all said. One is just the idea that this is developmentally appropriate at certain phases or [00:22:00] stages. I think that’s true. Just for anybody who might not know what that looks like, when is it actually developmentally appropriate for kids to be lying more than other times?
Rachel: That’s a layered question.
Stephanie: It is a layered question.
Rachel: I’ll answer what’s typical, and then I’ll give you the spiel about what about the learners. So maybe I start with that. The learners that we work with who are experiencing challenges being independently and autonomously successful in the classroom are oftentimes 2 to 3 years behind their peers.
So what’s typical is around 7 or 8, 9 kids are really starting to experiment with the truth. What that means, in reality, is you could have an 11 or 12-year-old who is not learning in a typical way and then presenting realistically younger. And so they could be lying at 11 or 12 too. Go ahead, Steph.
Stephanie: I was going to say, take a toddler. They eat something they’re not supposed to, and it’s all over their face. And you say, did you eat that? And they say, no. That’s developmentally appropriate because that’s what they all do. I remember my brother doing that when he was little. We all do that in some form.
So it just depends on what it is as they learn what is acceptable to say or how to behave and not have that impulse control issue. I don’t think that if the kid is that, the marshmallow test, do the kid really want to not eat the marshmallow? Yes. But do the kid really want to eat the marshmallow? Yes.
So, it’s really understanding what kind of lies and how [00:24:00] they’re presenting. If we have somebody who is stealing and lying about it, is that lie really developmentally appropriate? No, that’s not something that you should be doing and lying about. But if they’re saying, did you finish all your homework? And the kid says, yes, it’s just because they don’t want to go back to it. So, I think you have to know what kind of lies are we talking about. That’s very layered, but that’s my answer.
Dr. Sharp: No, I love it. It’s always complicated. I try to pin you down with things like that.
Stephanie: I see you.
Dr. Sharp: That was pretty good. I will say this, it’s been interesting. Our oldest is about to turn 11 and I’ve really noticed the shift with him where he isn’t really lying a lot anymore. The classic is like, did you brush your teeth this morning? Now he’ll be like, no. And it’s super refreshing.
Stephanie: So do you as a parent that he will tell the truth.
Rachel: He’ll tell the truth and how you acknowledge that with him. Hey, you used to do this and you’re not doing it anymore, and it’s really nice. Have you said that to him?
Dr. Sharp: I haven’t said that yet.
Rachel: Okay. So tomorrow morning you’ll go.
Stephanie: Now you know.
Rachel: Now it’ll be in the back of your head.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I love that. I’m going to keep that. I know we’re crossing over into what do we do?
Rachel: Yeah, it’s okay.
Dr. Sharp: I was going to say too, this idea of impulse control, we touched on that for a bit. That is at least in my mind, it’s not just that time planning issue or like projecting forward of like, will I be able to get this done, but that idea that a lot of [00:26:00] kids have trouble thinking through, oh, this is really easy for my parents to figure out if I’m telling the truth or not.
Rachel: Yeah, they don’t figure it out. They don’t see how easy it is and obvious. I see that with the clients that we work with too. It’s like so obvious. Steph, how many times have you been in a client’s email and you’re like, did you respond to that teacher? And then they’re like, oh yeah. And you go in, they deleted it. You’re like, I can find that.
Rachel: I’m like, at least be a little savvier in the lying about it.
Stephanie: Or did you get that email that you were supposed to meet that teacher? No, that teacher never
Rachel: they never emailed.
Stephanie: That’s so interesting because now I see it in your trash. There it was.
Rachel: How did it get archived and marked as read? But again, who knows? There are so many different reasons why it gets there, but I agree with you that they don’t think through how easy it is to reveal the truth here.
Stephanie: It’s a defense mechanism, right? They’re not thinking through what’s going to happen. You take a criminal, they’re not sitting there thinking they’re going to get caught. They wouldn’t do it if they thought they were going to get caught. It’s really helping them slow down and learn what they need to do when and how they’re going to accomplish something so that they don’t get themselves in those positions.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Well, I’m excited to talk about what we might do and how we might help folks with lying. I don’t know. I’m just reflecting on how amazing it is that our brains can do this so quickly and evolutionarily, I suppose, in that split second, when somebody is [00:28:00] asked a question and like that whole calculation happens of I didn’t do this, I know I didn’t do that, they’re going to be mad, that’s going to make me feel bad, and now I’m going to say something totally untrue and try to avoid that.
Stephanie: Listen, my dog does it. Like I’ll ask him if he went outside and he’ll go outside, look to see if I was watching him, and come back in and pretend like he went. And then I’ll say, did you go? And he’ll act maybe sometimes, and then I’ll go. No, you did not. And he’ll go back outside.
Rachel: Steph has a full-length conversation with her dog.
Dr. Sharp: That sounds like a remarkable dog.
Rachel: Yeah. Well, they’re extremely well-trained.
Stephanie: But listen, he’ll sit there and lie to me. And that’s appropriate for him.
Rachel: It shows how primitive it is and primal.
Dr. Sharp: So true. Well, let’s transition and talk about how well you work with some of this. You have some strategies. We can tackle this however you want. I’m curious if it’s different depending on the type of lying or situation? Y’all go wherever you’d like. We can find a way through this.
Stephanie: Okay. Let’s just start with… There are some strategies, but the thing that I think is most beneficial for parents, clinicians, et cetera, is don’t set them up to lie. Don’t ask that did you blank question
Rachel: especially when you already know. If you already know, let’s not try to catch them in that moment. Now you’re just creating a problem. You already know the truth, right? Like these online portals, parents are doing this all the time to our learners in our practice and they already know that something didn’t get turned in. And so they set them up with that question.
Dr. Sharp: Let me ask a philosophical question. Why do you [00:30:00] think parents do that? Why do we want to catch our kids lying? Because this happens a lot. I mean, I do this.
Rachel: That’s a great question.
Stephanie: I think it’s somewhat to be right and somewhat to sit there and say, I caught you, you didn’t do what you were supposed to do and you didn’t tell me about it and I know better and all of that. I think there’s an element that’s just not on purpose. I think it’s unconscious, but I think there’s an element of that for sure.
Rachel: Yeah. If it’s something that you’ve addressed previously in your house and the kid has said, I’m working on it. It’s not going to happen again and then it happens again, I think ego plays into it.
Stephanie: 100%. That’s what I was going to say. It reflects on your parenting.
Rachel: It’s a reflection of your parenting when the kid doesn’t pivot. So we take it really personally and we try to catch them in those moments too. But we want to try to have a high level of awareness about it because we want to reward the truth-telling even when the truth-telling is hard because if we react explosively or negatively or punitively…
Stephanie: The lie gets more extreme.
Rachel: …we are teaching them it’s better in the short term because they’re not thinking about the long term.
Dr. Sharp: That makes sense. Yes. I wonder if there, I’m just thinking through this for myself too and for parents out there, if there is an element too that’s a primal or evolutionary component of trust, being able to trust people close to us and how important that is. We can’t help it but test that.
Rachel: I think you’re totally right.
Stephanie: I agree with you.
Rachel: I think it makes us feel safe and secure when we can trust the people who are particularly in our living space. And it has to go both ways. And so I think you’re right that we test that.
Dr. Sharp: Complicated.
Rachel: Yes. It’s so human.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. I like this idea already setting the ground rules of, don’t set your kids up to fail basically or to get caught. So maybe we’re going to get to this, but what do you do instead? Just in that example, you know your kid is lying, you have this compulsion to catch them or make them feel bad about it or whatever, for whatever reason, what do you do instead in that moment when you have that information?
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All right, let’s get back to the podcast.
Rachel: I think you address it. I don’t think we just ignore the fact that there was a slip up or a screw up on something that is an expectation in the household. But I think it’s about being strategic about how you are addressing it. And I think we always want to try, this is a goal, but try to come from a place of curiosity about it so that we can encourage our kids to get curious about why it happened too, so that they can start forming their own solutions for that particular…
I’m imagining the kid who was supposed to take out the trash and told you they took out the trash, but they obviously didn’t take out the trash. We want to help them create their own strategies and their own approach and our own mindset through, what is stopping you from taking out the trash? Steph, what would you add?
Stephanie: I was going to say, this comes from also the Ross Greene method of plan B. I noticed that you didn’t do XYZ. What can we do to help you get that done? Or asking questions to help them get there, or if they need help or if you know what really getting behind the whole reason why it’s happening, that getting curious.
Rachel: Can I give a phrase that one of my friends said to me this weekend that she had been working on in therapy of saying what certain people in her life? It looks like this didn’t happen for you. That sounds really hard. What do you plan to do about it? It blew my mind when she said that. What do you plan to do about it?
Stephanie: And maybe they don’t have a plan.
Rachel: By asking the question, we are inviting them to have a plan. I’m going to try this out with certain people in my life. I’ll report back.
Stephanie: Nice. I think with kids though, there are a lot of kids that don’t even know that they need a plan, and that is one of the things that we teach is that you need a plan. In order to accomplish things, you have to be able to plan out when, how, why, where, and all of the things. And so, instead of asking your kid retroactively, why didn’t you do that? Then you look at the things that are coming up and say, how can we help you get that done?
Rachel: Or what are you planning to do about this thing that you didn’t get done that you were supposed to get done?
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I don’t know if this happens for the two of y’all if your brains work like this, but I think sometimes I have a really hard time seeing outside of myself and recognizing that not everyone plans everything every day because that’s […]. And so to even have that recognition to say, what do you plan to do about this? And know that, that might be a very, very difficult question even in and of itself for kids. I’m like plan, what do you mean plan? Like, it didn’t happen. It’s like all or nothing. What do you mean we plant now? What are we planning for? I can do some different.
Stephanie: Let me give you an example. I have a game. I’m the game person. This is my jam. So, there’s a game that’s kind of one of those old-school puzzles, kind of like a Rubik’s cube but not where you move the pieces, and [00:38:00] you have to copy what’s in this little thing that you shook all the colors in order. But you have to move all the little puzzle pieces.
Every time I play it, I’ll pull it out with a new kid, I’ll play it with them. I kill them. They haven’t even gotten the first row. So then I go back and I say to them, so what was your plan? How were you approaching this task? And they look at me like I’m speaking a different language. I swear to you. It never occurred to them that they needed a plan.
So then we talk about, okay, let’s set up a plan. What should you do? What order? How should you tackle this? 50% to 75% of the time they tie with me or they’ll beat me the next time because they had a plan. And so, then when you reflect back on, wow, look, you were able to beat me. Sometimes I lose on purpose, but I happen to be very good at the game as well.
Rachel: You’ve had a lot of experience with that. That’s the point.
Stephanie: I have, but that being said, they sort of look at you with this aha of oh, my gosh, I had a plan, I stuck to it and I was able to beat her. They love that. Let me just tell you.
I remember when I used to beat my dad playing checkers or Connect 4 something and I was like, it was the highlight of everything because he didn’t play easy on me. So I remember those moments. And so those kinds of things are just helping them grow and learn in different scenarios, how you do need to think through those things.
Dr. Sharp: It also makes me think too, I’m going back to why people lie. It’s just another layer too of like having that, if they have the recognition, like, oh, I didn’t do this thing. And oh, I was supposed to have a plan. I didn’t even think about having a plan right there. Now it’s two layers of things that they didn’t do very well. The [00:40:00] power of a plan is so hard to overstate. Let’s see. Where…
Rachel: Where are we?
Dr. Sharp: We’re diving in. No, this is good. But the first thing that y’all had on your list is getting ahead of the lying and are really like that. So talk about that and this way you said how you respond to truth-tellers. What does that do and how does that set the stage to even prevent lying?
Rachel: When we respond to uncomfortable truth and the truth that we didn’t want to hear from our kids, my friend’s son hit another kid at school let’s say. Hey, did you do this? And if he says, yes, well now it’s an uncomfortable truth that we didn’t want to hear. We don’t want our kid to be the hitter in the classroom or the biter and the classroom, right?
If we get explosive about it, what is likely to happen the next time is he’s smart, our kids are smart and they’re intuitive. And when they’re lying to us, it makes sense a lot of the time. Because our reaction is so big, well, next time, I’m just going to say no, I didn’t hit him. I’m going to dig my heels in on that. We have to, in those small moments of truth-telling, react in a way that builds trust that it is safe for our learners to tell us the truth.
I always tell the kids that we work with, I did not create you. I can go home and sleep tonight, and I will not be thinking about this assignment that you lied to me about. It doesn’t rock my world in the way it will probably rock your parents’ world. That’s when we have to get really creative with parents too because if we want to build that trust and rebuild that trust with [00:42:00] the parents, we have to sort of prep them for that. Like you can’t react explosive. If she actually tries to tell you the truth, you have to be cool if you want to get the truth again in the future.
Stephanie: Yeah. And I think it’s also about looking at things that could be just a mistake, not intentional, but a mistake because mistakes happen. And we have parents that I know, I’ve definitely said to them, please make mistakes on things to show your kids how you recover. Show them and teach them what to do when they make a mistake. We’ve had parents that say, well, I don’t make mistakes.
Rachel: That must be nice for you.
Stephanie: Let’s create some mistakes so that you can show them that it’ll be okay because lying comes from trying to cover up. And that’s why getting curious about it, was it a mistake and now they’re lying to cover it up or where is it really coming from? We all make mistakes. It’s not intentional. But understanding and knowing how to react when they make a mistake, especially if you make a mistake, when I was teaching, if I would make a mistake up on the board and go, oh, I spelled that wrong. Oops. Or whatever. They can see how you recover from making that mistake so that they don’t get into this, that if they think you’re perfect, they’re going to want to be perfect as well.
Dr. Sharp: Right. That’s such a good point. I love that y’all are focusing so much on the caregiver modeling in this process.
Stephanie: It’s important.
Dr. Sharp: It is, [00:44:00] and it’s super easy to overlook. It seems like an intuitive reality that if you react super strongly and negatively kids will stop telling you the truth, but it’s so hard to put into practice.
Rachel: I know. It’s one of the things that I look for when we’re selecting families to work with in our practice is coachability. How receptive are parents to hearing. It’s hard and we tend to not work with families of like here, fix my kid. It’s really hard when the kid is the identified patient in the family structure because everybody needs to shift and react. We’re working with the kid, but we’re always working with the family.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I wonder how much of this work is honestly, I mean, talking with parents versus the kid, that’s a just broad question. If you had to break it down, how much are you working with the learners on this stuff versus how the parents react?
Rachel: I think it’s both. It has to come from both directions because we cannot ask these our kids to go and tell their parents the truth about something knowing that the parent is going to remove the phone. They’re going to ground them from a trip. That doesn’t set up a good clinical relationship for us. That’s not safe for us to encourage them to do that.
Stephanie: And I’m thinking about a conversation I had with a client and parent yesterday, actually, where the kid doesn’t want the parent to check her homework. I have asked the parents to stop checking the homework because the teacher needs to know that the child can’t do the homework, but the parent came to me yesterday and said something like, [00:46:00] she’s having such a hard time, we’re just trying to help her.
And so, one of the things I said to her yesterday was to the student, they can offer their help and don’t get mad at them for offering help, you don’t have to accept it though. And the mom just looked at me like, okay, yeah, that I think will be a good medium for both sides to feel like they tried, but she didn’t want to accept it. Then she has to take on that she didn’t get it right or she’s not going to do well in the assignment or something. She’ll have a consequence.
And it’s not like, oh, you’re going to get grounded. It’s more like, oh, well now you have to do it again because you didn’t do it right the first time because that’s what the teacher said or whatever it is. It doesn’t matter. But looking at things like that from that perspective is I think also important of getting ahead of there being lying and avoidance of tasks.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. Gosh, there are so many directions we could go in this whole building independence. I’m going to try to stick to the lying stuff, but this just touches so many areas there. So, so let’s see. So we’re talking about getting ahead of the lying, rewarding truth-telling, doing it in a positive way, and not being punitive, which makes a lot of sense. Other strategies or ways that you might approach a lying learner.
Rachel: I think we have to try very, very hard not to take it personally. And from a practical perspective, shifting away from how we’re responding, I think we have to… [00:48:00] Steph, this is all you. You’re the one who taught me this. Verify, verify, verify when you have to help them.
Stephanie: We have to take a look. Let me just see. I just want to see what your teacher is teaching you or whatever it is to get them to open up, check, check, check, check, check.
Rachel: And this is, this is hard because we want to trust the kids and we want them to be telling us the truth. That’s what we all ultimately want. But the depths that some of these kids go to, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened up a portal and gone and looked at something they’ve submitted, it looks like there’s a checkmark. Like, it looks like it’s submitted and it’s a blank Google doc, or it is an assignment, but not that assignment. They’ve just put something in there. And it’s like, really? That’s the level that these kids are going to avoid something.
And then we have to come together as a group with me and my client, me, my client and the teacher, me, my client, and the parents, it just depends on who’s in the group, and talk about the problem and figure out what the consequences are going to be prior to the consequence to the problem happening.
For example, going back, I used to teach preschool so I’ve got a million of those in my back pocket, but we would have these kids tantrumming. Well, you can’t reason with them when they’re in their primal brain and they’re tantruming and you can’t expect to have a solution with the kid who’s lying when they’re lying. It’s about priming them for, Hey, this is probably going to happen because that’s your pattern and this will be the consequence when it, and if it happens again. And then also being there to [00:50:00] help giving them a plan of what to do when it happens. Okay. So let’s assume it’s going to happen. This is the consequence and this is what we’re going to do when it happens again.
Dr. Sharp: Right. A couple of questions. I wonder if now is a time to revisit this case of Steph’s when you were talking about the depths that this student went to, and I’m curious how you ended up verifying and catching.
Stephanie: Okay. So it was right at the beginning of a pandemic and she was figuring out how to turn in assignments that were the wrong assignment. And she was in elementary school. So she was turning stuff in, the wrong assignment or turning in multiple of the same assignment under different assignments, and grades weren’t counting. She knew, and she just would take some words and put them on a paper because she knew that the teacher was just checking for completion and not actually what she was doing. For an elementary schooler, that is very sophisticated. Nobody caught on for a good couple of weeks.
I got the passwords to everything. Once I went in and started really looking at where was she struggling, I started seeing all the things that she, it was two years ago now, so I can’t remember all the things, but I do remember showing Rachel and showing my team what she was doing and they were all going, whoa, this is more sophisticated than our high schoolers about avoidance of these tasks.
She was getting away with it. Everyone thought like, oh, I gave it to that other teacher by accident. Triangulation was happening and nobody caught on. It [00:52:00] was next level.
So I think it’s the assignments and the things that she needed to do she didn’t understand. She didn’t know what was being asked of her. And it was much easier to just figure an out and a quick out at that. And she’s clever. She’s a really smart kid. The thing is that she would go to these depths of being able to do it. And while you sit there and say, well, if you’ve just put in 25% effort into X, she didn’t know what she was supposed to be doing. So therefore she couldn’t put in any effort because she didn’t know what was being asked of her.
And so, if you give her the benefit of the doubt of she didn’t understand the assignment then yeah, that’s why she didn’t do it. And she was getting like you’re not turning in your homework, so she just started turning something else in. And then it just becomes this snowball of how far will they go to avoid or do something so they don’t get in trouble, even though they down the line, they’ll get in more trouble. But for now, because if you talk about the now versus not right now, for the now it solves the problem.
Dr. Sharp: Right. A short-term solution is super easy. That’s such a great example. In some ways, I just have to applaud that elementary school kid.
Rachel: Exactly. You got to respect the player not the game.
Stephanie: She’s a great kid and she will do things in her life. She’s just phenomenal. Nobody had any clue until I figured it out. I just happened to be at my job, sit there and figure out [00:54:00] what’s going on. And when I started playing detective and really dug deep, oh, there’s what’s happening. And parents don’t necessarily have the time or the energy or know-how to be able to dig that deep, to figure out what’s going.
Dr. Sharp: Right. So how did you respond then? What was the intervention so to speak after that?
Stephanie: Well, the intervention was more about, okay, look, I see what’s happening. I see what you did. I see how this happened. Let’s talk about what is going on that prevented you from being able to do this.
Well, sometimes she would sit there and say her computer would just shut off so she couldn’t do the assignment and she couldn’t turn it back on, which could happen, but it didn’t. I know it didn’t because I could check with her mother. It was just really about, okay, if, let me sit there and help you through and if we do it together, it’ll get done. And then you’ll know a little bit more for next time. But if we talk about where you don’t understand or what they’re asking you to do, it was another example of, she didn’t know what she didn’t know. And it was clear that she didn’t know a lot because they weren’t getting the same instruction. So it made sense.
Rachel: It’s like when people know that they need, like when they finally find out about educational therapy, you were what I needed but they didn’t know what to Google to get there.
Dr. Sharp: That’s a great point. It also makes me think about what do you do? I imagine you get a lot of kids who say, I don’t know. What happened here? I don’t know. No idea. Then where do you go from there? Are you feeding them options? Are you brainstorming? Are you giving them permission to?
Rachel: It depends on the kid. I definitely have kids where I don’t know [00:56:00] is the first line of defense and it’s also a way to give their brain time to think. It’s processing time. Okay. Well, let’s sit with it for a second. I can’t tell you how often I sit with things for a second both with my clients, my team, my husband. We’re sitting with a lot of things all the time. It’s so much sitting with things.
And then, it depends on the kid because at the point that we are discovering the lying, usually, we’ve been working with them for a while. And so, we know what their brain needs and what their brain won’t benefit from and the emotions that are layered within this. So that’s where it really helps. Frankly, if you’re not the parent, it helps that parents have outsourced this with us to a certain extent because lying creates a lot of discord in the home. And one of the good byproducts of good intervention from our practices is that family and home life improves as a result and lying depend on the individual kid in front of you.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, of course. That makes sense. Are there any other ways to outsource? I know that’s a major strategy. What if we don’t have fabulous therapists that we can outsource this to? What will you do then?
Stephanie: It depends on what it’s about, right? If the homework assignment is too hard or there is too much, partner with the teacher and see if you can make something so that the kid can be successful. That’s the ultimate goal.
Rachel: And I think you really also have to be able to hopefully look at it from a [00:58:00] higher level and what are the things that your kid is lying about? And that’s where you go and you provide the support. You have to look at the trend. And sometimes it takes a really skilled eye to be able to do that.
Parents are experts on their kids. We’re experts on learning in how students get the information and access to the curriculum and experience studenting, but the parents are the experts on their particular child in our homes. So what are the things that they are lying about and then go and start targeting those things and how you can make it easier and better and faster and more efficient and get creative?
Stephanie: Now, let me just give you a very easy example. I had a kid who was refusing to brush his teeth and the parents told me, “We can’t get him to brush his teeth.” So when I started talking to the kid about what was happening, I come to find out his parents were buying him adult toothpaste and he didn’t like the taste. He hadn’t really expressed that he didn’t like the taste to them because they thought, oh, he’s too old for kid toothpaste. And when I said, okay, well, what if I just ask your mom to buy you some kid toothpaste, would that change things? Would you be more willing? And he was like, yeah. And it was something as simple as that.
Rachel: So simple.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, my gosh. And just the base, I think this is a theme from our episode that I’ve been thinking about is this idea of assuming positive intent or the idea that kids do the best that they can when they can. And I’m sure the parents clearly Are coming at this, like, why is he not brushing his teeth? He’s trying to lie to us. And here you are. It’s like, I just don’t like the toothpaste. Fairly reasonable.
Rachel: It’s so simple sometimes.
Stephanie: I’m picky [01:00:00] about my toothpaste. I get it.
Rachel: We all have brand loyalties. It’s fine.
Stephanie: Yeah, exactly. If a middle schooler or high schooler wants to use kid toothpaste, it’s okay.
Rachel: They’re brushing their teeth.
Stephanie: Exactly. Take that for the win.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. It’s still getting done. Well, I wonder, as we start to wrap up, if there are any other, thoughts, strategies, anything you want to put out there that we haven’t talked about or need to talk more about, to put a little bow on this topic for now.
Rachel: I think a partnership with the school when possible when parents have the luxury of time to facilitate that. I think letting everybody on the team know like, Hey, we are focused on this right now as a family, it could be really, really helpful to have all the adults in a learner’s life focus on the same short-term goal.
Stephanie: And don’t do everything at once is the other thing.
Rachel: Yeah. You can’t possibly tackle everything at once. So make the goal small, achievable, realistic, measurable, and time-sensitive. It’s a SMART goal. Make it achievable and then celebrate it when the goal has been met. And when there is progress, moving forward.
Stephanie: Success breeds success.
Dr. Sharp: I like it. It might be a nice note to end. A nice positive note. Happy endings. Well, as always, super grateful for y’all to come on.
Rachel: Thank you.
Stephanie: Thank you for having us.
Rachel: This was so fun.
Dr. Sharp: It’s always cool. There’s so much overlap but you’re doing completely different things. It’s cool to see this the other side of the coin and how y’all come [01:02:00] at things the way you’re thinking about kids. That’s always helpful. Thank you, again. Your jacket is in the mail.
Rachel: Thank you for having us. Yeah, there we go.
Dr. Sharp: Okay y’all, thank you so much for tuning into this podcast. Lots of links in the show notes, go check those out. Hope you took away some concrete info that you can use in your daily practice with kids or adults. Lying isn’t just limited to kids.
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