FAS/E and Lying

(Dianne Yee's response to a parent's concerns)

Your son is only 15-years-old. He's right in "the middle of the middle" of the lying phase. My son, now 23-years-old, lied a lot too, but he outgrew it (mostly).

During those very difficult lying years, when I knew he was lying, I would say to him, "I know that's not the truth. I tell you the truth and I want you to tell me the truth...all the time. I will not punish you, no matter what you did, if you tell me the truth." or "That's not true. You know it and I know it." Sometimes, this worked, but often it didn't. I just kept saying the same thing over and over again for years.

Then, of course, you have to follow up on what you say, i.e., you can't punish them if they tell you the truth.

I don't know what finally "clicked" in my son's brain, but something did. He now tells me the truth almost all the time. I make sure I don't even flinch when he tells me something I don't like to hear. (He's very skilled at reading body language and facial expressions. I've learned to remain stoical and keep an impassive expression.)

I will sometimes comment on his behavior when he tells me he did something I don't approve of, but I try to make my comments non-judgmental. I might say something like "I'm so glad you told me the truth. It means so much to me. The problem with doing XYZ is that you could get in big trouble if you were caught." or "Thank you for telling me the truth. I really appreciate it. I love you and only want the best for you. I need you to put back what you took."

In the case of stealing something, which used to happen frequently (this behavior has also almost disappeared), I tell him simply, kindly, and without emotion that he needs to return it, or I tell him how much the thing cost and how many hours of work he'll need to do to pay for its loss. To my surprise, he has reacted with a visible sense of relief to this. I think his conscience is developing and he feels badly when he's stolen something. Offering him the opportunity to payback for it, relieves his guilt (which I'm delighted to see he has).

Our kids so often act impulsively, then they act defensively about what they've done when they're questioned. It's my theory that if we continue to see them as good people who've just made a mistake, and we give them the chance to make amends, they're happy to comply. Over time, they come to have a different view of themselves as good people, people who can be trusted by others, and people who can trust themselves.

We do this automatically with young children because we know they're in their phase of moral development. We need to keep in mind that older FAS/E kids are in the same phases, but at a later time than non FAS/E kids. We need to cut them as much slack as we would a younger child because, emotionally and developmentally, they really are far younger than their chronological ages.

What's worked best for me, and I had to learn this by trial and error and by practicing, is to remain calm and nonjudgmental. The child can't handle a barrage of emotion. In fact, strong emotion clouds the issue for any child, FAS/E or not. The issue is always "You did this. Here's what must happen next to fix it." The "fixing it" part is not a punishment; it's a natural consequence. And natural consequences are logical and not emotionally loaded. For example, if we trip and hurt our knee, the hurt knee is not a punishment and there's no overlay of "celestial revenge" (God's out to get you because you were stupid and missed the curb). It's just the way the world works.

This is what we can teach our children by repetition: This is the way the world works. If X happens, then Y follows. No judgment. No emotion. Just the facts. You've really got to work with your mind to make SURE you don't feel angry or disgusted when you find your child has done something wrong. If you do feel that way, your child will pick up on it immediately. He will then go to great lengths to convince you that he didn't do it.

I think our kids know they often don't do things right and that they're not like everyone else. They have a deeply seated sense of being "born wrong," which eats away at their self esteem. They act out of poor impulse control (not their fault) and they're later ashamed if someone finds them out. If we can be matter of fact with them, they learn they're not terrible people and that there is a better way to live. We can give them permission to make mistakes and to fix things. Over time, these life lessons build on themselves and the child incorporates these values into his own mind.


Teresa's Article on Confabulation
Annie's Solution
FAS Community Resource Center