Part 1 (of 2)
All kids lie sometimes, it’s part of normal childhood development. Stepkids have additional reasons to lie, and they might surprise you:
1. It’s about Survival. If they are lying to their bio mom about you, it’s probably because she lets them know (overtly or subtly) that they are only safe/loved/okay if they are on ‘her side’. When they dish some secrets about you, it’s a kind of payment in exchange for the love they need to feel secure. Security is the most basic human need, and it’s our primitive “non-reasoning” brain that is in charge of those basic survival impulses. There’s no way to reason with anyone when it feels like a matter of survival!
Your stepkids might believe that telling made up things is better than telling true things – which might actually be reasonable if you think about it! If they tell lies, they don’t have to feel guilty for actually spying on you and reporting real things. They can make up whatever they want, with the idea that they are almost protecting you at the same time.
If they suspect it will upset mom, they won’t want to admit that they like being at your house or that they have fun there. It’s easier to resort to making things up than to endure her reaction to the true things they could say. They don’t want to admit that they love their dad, or worse, that they love you! If they go into fantasy mode, they can control what they say and adapt the story to get the best possible reaction from mom.
2. Embarrassment. If they are telling lies to friends or other adults, it might be that they are embarrassed by some aspect of their family situation. They think theirs is the only family with problems and they desperately want to pretend their family is ‘normal’. This is where you might see kids pretending their parents live together, declaring that their dad is dead or claiming their mom lives in a fancy house with servants and elevators.
3. Learned Behaviour. If their bio mom is making up stories about you or their dad, they learn that it’s acceptable and even clever to make stuff up and say it as if it really happened. Kids learn about bending the truth from other places as well. We have to take into account that we live in a time of blurred lines between truth and fiction, especially in the news media.
4. Fear. All kids fear doing or saying anything that will get their mom in trouble. They will lie to protect her if they think you would disapprove of what she is doing or if they think you would actually take any kind of action against her. They will do this even if your intention is to protect the child from harm. Of course, all kids also lie sometimes to avoid getting in trouble themselves. Finally, they will lie because they are afraid of disappointing you. They are afraid that the truth is not interesting enough, or that it’s not acceptable.
In the next installment, I’ll explain how you can make the lying stop.
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