- a long history
- frequent, habitual use
- no discenerable motivation or benefit
Simply put, these lies make no sense. They are often used when the truth is clearly a better option.
When we are talking about children or adolescents who have experienced early trauma, this type of lying can be referred to as primary process lying or crazy lying. This is not the typical, developmentally appropriate lying used to avoid consequences. In typically developing children this type of lying fades away by the age of 6-7. Children whose development was impacted by trauma may get stuck in this phase for a long time.
Most parents understand the type of lies that are told to avoid punishment. Primary process lying that persists past age 6-7 makes no sense. Children who engage in this type of lying do not respond to the typical consequences that parents use for lying. This is important to remember! This type of lying does not respond to typical discipline.
There is no single intervention that will move a child past this difficult behavior. Successful intervention involves many efforts aimed at developing healthy attachment relationships and a secure sense of self in the child.
Here are some strategies that may help lower your frustration!
- Skip the first few questions. When faced with a child who is lying, our first inclination is to ask questions that begin with who, when, where, and why. A child engaged in primary process lying is not likely to begin telling the truth when questioned. Asking questions often just gives the child more opportunities to lie, this leads to more frustration in the parent. If you must know the truth of what happened, save yourself some time and use your investigative skills in ways that don’t involve the child
- Be playful and curious. This stance allows connection to happen. For example, parents have a son who lies frequently. They composed a silly song that they sing when they notice primary process lying. This acknowledges the behavior, establishes that the lie is not believed and prevents the atmosphere from becoming tense and angry.
- You can let the child “overhear” you talking to yourself or a friend. Questions such as “I wonder why he thought that would work?” or “I wonder how that will work out for her?” show your curiosity. Do not expect your child to answer these questions. They are simply wonderings.
So, is your child a pathological lier? Maybe. Looking at this behavior through the lens of developmental truama can help us to understand our hurt children and help them heal.