Monday, December 01, 2008

On Lying

So anyway, Ryan has been going through a bit of a lying phase. It started a couple of months ago, and seems to be diminishing, thankfully.

All kids will stretch the truth from time to time, of course. But there was a difference in this latest round of Truth Experimentation which is somewhat difficult for me to describe. When Ryan was younger, and I've seen this with Morgan and some of their friends who are younger, the "lying" isn't really premeditated--they lie in the moment, often when asked a stupid or obvious question by an adult. An example:

"Did you pick up your toys?" Mom asks, looking at toy-filled room (And yes, I'm guilty of such dumb questions! I'm a very tired Mommy.)

Child thinks, What does mom want to hear? and comes out with, "Yes!"

Okay, that's a lie, yes. But Ryan's finally progressed to the premeditated lying stage. With malice aforethought. Well, maybe not always malice, but frequently forethought.

This is an entirely different degree of lying and when we discovered it, we were extremely disappointed and upset. Yet the lying continued, until we came up with two strategies that seem to get through to him. I'm not saying that he'll never lie again, but I've definitely noticed an improvement in the last month or two since we've been applying these strategies.

What I do when I discover a lie is to say something like, "Well, this is what I saw with my eyes [insert description]." or "I am using my eyes and my ears and my mind and I can decide what's true for myself--and what you are saying is not true."

I like this strategy because it reinforces lots of good philosophy.

Good Metaphysics: It demonstrates that reality is real and objective--saying that A is B does not make it so. I make a point of showing that I know that A is A.

Good Epistemology: This strategy models good epistemology--I am showing that I rely on my senses as well as my mind to know about reality. Which is great when I can catch the lie as it's happening, but I also explain it to him when I draw an inference about the truth, which is what I did the day after he wrote the word ASS on the wall. He tried to blame his friends (but only half-heartedly, as he suspected we already knew the truth). I told him that while I didn't see who wrote the word on the wall, I could tell he was the culprit because A) one of his friends hadn't been over that day, and B) the friend who had been over can't write. I think Ryan appreciated the logic of my case. :o)

The second strategy we have used to curtail the lying is grounded in Ethics. We have discussed the damage to relationships that lying can cause, that he should be self-interested in the truth, both as a way to be just and loving to his family and friends and as a way to be just to himself. But I think the most powerful ethical argument has been reminding him of the times when he has told the truth and what happened then. He remembers his feeling of pride and also the fact that we didn't get angry with him, but rather, we helped him handle the problem. He has also remarked that he feels sad and mad with himself when he has lied--which is a proper feeling, so I think that's a good thing. As he gets more experience with the good feelings of being truthful (even when it's hard) and the bad ones of deception, I think it will be easier for him to make the right decision. (Again, not that he won't ever make bad decisions.)

We've also discussed the role of context in truth-telling, and he is very hyper-aware that it's okay to lie to Bad Guys. :o) In fact, he asked me about this a few nights ago, remarking something to the effect that it would be wrong to tell the truth to a Bad Guy who asked you where you kept your money, since he'd just want to steal it. Yes!

So those are some of my thoughts on the lying issue--I'm sure we'll have to come up with different tactics for different kids, or possibly different developmental phases. Thoughts? Any other things I should be mindful of?


C. August said...

Great post. This is just starting with our 5-yr-old, and I really like your tactic of using the "I can see with my eyes and use my mind to figure this out." We do something similar with A. that seems to work so far, namely saying "I know you said that you didn't do X, but I'm standing here looking at the broken Y, and you have Z in your hand, and I know you did it." So far, she had responded properly to this, admitting the truth and dealing with it. She seems very receptive to logical arguments, and after she takes a deep breath (or 100) to calm down, sees things for what they are.

But as these things get more complex, I think bringing it down to more fundamentals will be very helpful. I'm going to use your methods.

As you mentioned, we have tried to make sure to reinforce truth-telling in all situations, and try to be supportive even when she did something wrong but owned up. It's easier to do this when she broke something than it is when she hit her brother with a "light saver" or something. Still... worth the effort.

In our house, we have recently been dealing with significant back-talk. This is in the vein of "why do I have to do what YOU say all the time?!" I'm wondering how to handle this better than "because I said so!" which doesn't work and isn't what we want to reinforce. For instance, if we say "don't throw that trash on the floor... pick it up and put it in the trash can," we now sometimes get the outburst above. How do we respond to this with something that will make A. think, and get her to realize that, while this isn't a life or death issue, our request is reasonable and doesn't warrant the nasty response she gave?

(note: these confrontations usually happen when the kids are overtired due to weekend trips to see relatives or something that throws off the routine, and so far are not endemic)

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Interesting post! We went through several lying stages with both of our children.

For the Boychick, lying is particularly unproductive because he can't do it well at all. When he was younger it was much as you described with your young children--the lie was telling Mamma what she she wanted to hear. But since he has Aspergers, and thus lacks social skills, has difficulty reading language pragmatics, and has difficulty imaging how others perceive him, that phase lasted longer than in most kids.

Of course, we have progressed to more devious lies; but still they are often tied into how we ask the question. "Did you do your homework?" is still not a productive question. Statements are better: "No computer until you show me your homework, done and ready to hand in."

But at the same time, presenting the Boychick with sensory evidence and sequencing to logic from that information has been extremely useful, thus: "The backpack's still in the car, and your pencils are still in the drawer and there is no work in the completed work folder. So no computer until the homework is done."

I have also found that with the Boychick, at least, keeping the tone simple and matter-of-fact works much better than if we get emotionally upset. When he was little, getting really emotional would send the Boychick into a full-scale meltdown. Now, he shuts down.

Anyway, over all these years, I was pretty sure I was teaching ethics and morality (why lying is bad and what damage it does to relationships), but I didn't know I was also teaching metaphysics!
I'm a philosopher and I didn't know it!

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks for your comments, C and EHL. Re-reading the post this morning makes me want to make a couple more points--first, that I am anticipating that lying "experimentation" will come and go, as all of these childhood phases seem to go. It's a way for them to test limits, and limit-testing seems to be a child's neverending occupation! The limits tested by lying are metaphysical--can wishing/saying make it so? and epistemological--how do people know what is true? and of course ethical--how do I feel and how do others feel when lies are told? And are there contexts in which it's okay to lie or withhold the truth?

Also, I do want to write more about discipline (in the "raising up a child properly" sense of the word rather than "punishment") and was wondering if there would be interest in that, especially if I can figure out how to ground discipline issues in philosophy--fundamentals as you put it, C. I do not have all the answers, but I find writing and thinking about our, uh, challenges helps clarify my thinking and maybe will garner me some other good ideas by other rational parents.

C--to your current issue--Ryan is also in a very "I'm in charge of my OWN body and I'm NOT going to do XYZ" kind of phase. I don't expect it to resolve any time soon. My approach is to remind myself that he is really asking to be independent and reevaluate what I'm asking to see if A) he really does need to do XYZ and B) if so, to find a way in which he can do XYZ more on his terms. I explain the reasons behind XYZ--and I probably do this too much because I often lose my audience.

I make it a point not to use the phrase "because I told you so" because I simply don't think that's going to help matters in raising an independent rational human being. It's a good strategy, I think, for raising very obedient human beings.

For situations like your example, I try to say something in a calm, unemotional (it's hard!) way like: "Trash belongs in the trash can. And I like to be spoken to politely." Or, especially if they're tired "Would you like to think of a polite way to ask me for help doing that?" Or, lately, "Would you like a 'do-over' and try to say that again?"

I don't always say things the way I would prefer, and often have the "I like to be spoken to politely" thing thrown back at me--and I don't consider that "back-talk" if I've been rude, too. It's okay for them to say things like that to me--it was not okay when I was a child, since my parents were always right and no child was ever allowed to contradict them.

EHL--it's so hard for me not to get emotionally invested in such things and thanks for the reminder about how important it is not to do so. I'm getting better at it, but it's hard, especially when I'm sleep-deprived! I do see better results when I'm able to be matter-of-fact about it though. And when I'm not, I always apologize for losing it--again, something that was never done when I was a child--an adult apologizing to a child.

John Drake said...

Great post. My son is not yet old enough to start that level of lying, but I would not be surprised if he does. I think your approach is fabulous and fully philosophically grounded. It reminds me of the advice by Ginot and Faber (I may have the spelling off). Which reminds me, I need to re-read their books. My son is starting the terrible 3s. How do you deal with a boy who occasionally hits others (sometimes for no apparent reason at all)?

Kelly said...

No particularly thoughts on this, as I don't have kids. I do want to thank you, though, for making so clear thoughts I have had swimming in my head! I especially liked the part on epistemology. I think my parents handled the whole lying thing pretty well when we were kids, but the epistemology aspect is new to me and so right on!

Thanks again!

Kelly said...

One addition...

I would be really interested in anything you have to say about discipline. I've learned lots of great tidbits about child rearing from your blog :)

Rational Jenn said...

Hi John! I love Faber, and what I've read of Ginott, too. I think they have some great ideas about discipline.

I hear you on the Terrible 3s! My oldest son had that BAD (he's 6.5 now). My daughter is right in the middle of it, hitting it full force about 3 months ago. She's 3.5.

With hitting, or any undesirable behavior really, it helps to figure out why, of course. Which makes it hard when there's not apparent reason! But basically, the first step is the same--when you catch it, first make sure the victim is okay, or if you've been hit, then say "Ouch! Hitting hurts! We don't hit."

If you see him about to hit, restrain his arm and say "No hitting. Hitting hurts." Which might make him mad, but until the kid can master his impulse to hit, then the parent needs to help him, and protect anyone who might get hurt.

The next thing is to make a guess as to why the hitting happened. So after you stop the arm, and remind him of the No Hitting Rule, then you could say, "You look mad. Use words to say how mad you are." One of my friends used a "hitting pillow" for her child, so she'd say: "You seem mad. If you feel like hitting someone, go hit your pillow." Some kids need to get the mads out of their system physically.

My oldest child needs to get the mads out of his system by talking, so I could say "You seem mad. Tell me why."

Of course, anger isn't the only reason kids hit. Maybe if he is trying to get someone's attention, you could say (after "hitting hurts!"): "You seem like you want me to pay attention to you. All you have to do is put your hand on my knee." Or "You want to play with that toy. Use words to ask your friend for a turn. You could say 'I'd like a turn, please.' "

And if there's no clear reason that you can discern or the child can articulate, then just reiterate the "hitting hurts" idea and then try to get him started on something else. Distraction still works at this age (kinda).

Hope these are helpful ideas....there's a similar discussion going on at the Principle Parent blog, written by another Objectivist parent.

Oh! And I like the book "Playful Parenting", too which has some really creative ideas for such situations.

LB said...

I really liked this post. It was well written and describes some wisdom I just recently accumulated (you are so advanced). I think your approach is near perfect.

It has also been my experience that a little feistiness in a chld is a good thing. Perfect compliance might imply that the child is not developing his own judgement.

For me, the key to good parenting is being able to see the big picture rather than react to the range-of-the-moment. Reading and writing about the big ideas of parenting really helps. So thanks for your help, Jenn. I hope I can see and explain things more clearly when the urge to growl or bark creeps into my daily parenting situations.

suchlovelyfreckles said...

I have nominated you for the Butterfly Award, to be picked up at my blog. :)
I'll have to read your post another time. Gotta go and do some work with my kids.

Rational Jenn said...

I'm a bit late catching up with my comments here, but LB, I am in complete agreement with you that feistiness is a good thing! I once explained to someone that I'm not trying to train a dog here--I'm trying to raise rational human beings! And "obedience" is not a quality I really want to encourage--as much as I might wish it in the moment! By the way, have you ever seen the movie "Ella Enchanted"? I just discovered this movie and it's a bit beyond my kids yet, but I LOVE it.

SLF--Thank you so much! I will accept your award as soon as I can figure out 10 blogs to nominate!