This is a usual occurrence at my house. I send my son to his room to clean it up before his friend comes for an overnight, and twenty minutes later I ask through his closed bedroom door, Is your room clean? He yells out, “Yes.” Since I know this boy, I open the door to find him stretched out across his bed reading a comic book over crumbled Ritz crackers, a dirty plate with utensil stuck hard on it, two half-eaten bagels (Why two?), various candy wrappers, a zillion cords to electronics he doesn’t even have access to anymore, and a lot of maybe laundered, maybe not laundered, clothing. There were other things, but I will spare you the visual.
In the moment of seeing him there, I am instantly disgusted by the state of his room and slightly dysregulated that he felt the need to lie to me. Nowadays, it doesn’t take long for me to de-personalize the situation and slide back into regulation enough to say, Hey Buddy, clean up your room. Lying is not necessary, while quietly pivoting away. Scorching the earth like a Mommy Dragon is not the way to go. It would cause us both further dysregulation, the room would not get cleaned, and our relationship would be strained one more time.
Lying is a maladaptive coping mechanism to hide a number of things, which only sometimes is laziness. Often my son lies because he literally forgot by the time he trekked the hallway to his room why he was going there in the first place. Or, he reflexively lies out of dysregulation trying to get out of trouble because he has poor executive function; and, he didn’t get the cause and effect of his actions. Sometimes, he gets overwhelmed by the the size of a task, cannot figure out how to get organized to start it, and distracts reading a comic book. The lie is just a cover.
These are not excuses. They are very real executive function deficits from cortisol (stress hormone) poisoning his brain for most of his life. My son has a trauma brain, which looks like severe ADHD that can be only slightly mediated by medication. The rest of the time he needs simple directions, hurdle help with organization of large tasks, reminders, lists, and help understanding what led him to tell a lie about his room being clean. Applying negative consequences to a maladaptive coping skill is like punishing a baby for pulling your hair. It won’t stop it from happening again in a few minutes, but it will make the child and the baby fear you.
Yes, it is mind numbing to continually need to help a child, however grown up they are (19-years-old and counting now). But, it is what it is. My son needs my help still. Your child probably needs yours, too. It takes at least 400 repetitions to create one new neuropathway. Repetition is the key to learning for most of our children. Getting angry when you are only on the 200th repetition is futile.
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