I don’t teach my child that lying is bad.
My child, like me, is autistic and we have different ways of thinking about and reacting to things than the average neurotypical person. The age-old topic of lying, particularly on the reasons why you shouldn’t and mustn’t lie, are rooted in societal and religious “golden” standards, which get passed on from one generation to the other.
I want to question and challenge these stale “golden” standards because they don’t make much sense to me.
Lying is a healthy developmental milestone in childhood which means that your child can mentally work out a sequence of potential events or situations, and based on that information choose to manipulate or change a course of events, through lying. It’s an intelligent and adaptive processing response.
The ability to lie and manipulate events, can also keep a person safe. There are countless examples of this in history, where people have lied to ensure the right thing being done at the time (like saving the lives of other people, or being able to protect themselves from harm, for example). The last thing I want to teach my child, is that this adaptive and intelligent, natural and normal response, is bad. Because it’s not.
The fact that my child occasionally lies, is something that I’m a little proud of – the day they started doing it, my reaction was basically ‘Woo! Healthy developmental milestone – tick!’
Apart from being proud that my child has the ability to lie, I do not react badly when I can tell that they’re lying.
Autistic brains process information extremely quickly and often consider an enormous amount of information and situational sequencing/potential events that others don’t necessarily think about straight away. We are processing extraordinaires! So if my child’s brain has been able to consider an out-of-left-field possibility of something that they don’t want to happen or a situation that may not work in their favour, then their brain is doing a damn fine job!
So, what do I do when I can tell my child’s lying? Honestly, I don’t tell my child that I know.
What I say is something along the lines of “Okay, no problem. If you need to tell me something more about this later, you can tell me.” My child responds to this with a nod. This gives my child time to process what they want to tell me and when. The great thing about this is, that my child will be honest with me later and tell me the full story. My reaction is always, great, thank you for telling me.
I also tell my child that they are never in trouble with me if they have lied and want to tell me about it later. This gives my child a safety net to process information in the way that their brain works and in their own time. I want my child to know and feel like they are safe if they have lied and need to tell me something more or different. My response is never anger or disappointment. It’s trust building and strengthening their capability to speak up if they need to.
I’m also honest with my child about the fact that I sometimes lie and about all adult’s lying too. It’s a fact that we all do it from time to time. So it makes no sense whatsoever that we would try and turn a child’s healthy and natural response, into some kind of constipated idea that we all have complexes over later as adults.
Yes, I hear you, integrity is important and valuable. But if we can’t practice this early with children and open the space right up for vulnerability, mistakes being okay and modeling trust and courage, then what are we really teaching about integrity?
My child is really honest and I get feedback from others that they find this too. I’m an artist and my child will tell me why she doesn’t like most of my paintings (they apparently have too much pink in them, LOL). It doesn’t bother me and I love it when she finally likes one of my paintings!
So, is it working? Well, I think the proof of the pudding is always in the eating, and yes this definitely works. Telling a child that lying is bad or that they are bad because they are doing what is natural and adaptive, is just well…wrong. It’s physiologically and cognitively wrong, because it’s what our brains do, whether you like and agree with it or not.
Brains win. The end.